The question above was answered “YES” in the case of Schulze v. Morris, 361 N.J. Super 419 (2003).
Relevant Case Facts
The Schulze case involved a dispute between divorced New Jersey parents as to where their child would reside post-divorce. The parties resided in Middlesex County during their marriage, and they had one child. When they divorced in 1998 their settlement agreement provided that they would share joint legal custody of their son, and the child’s mother would be the parent of primary residence. At the time of the divorce the parties were aware that the child’s father would be leaving New Jersey to further his education. They agreed on a parenting plan that covered his parenting time prior to his departure, and during his time out of state. They also agreed that upon his return to New Jersey the father’s parenting time with the child would be renegotiated. Their agreement further provided that if the parties could not amicably resolve the parenting time issue upon the fathers return that either party could apply to the Court to determine the parenting time schedule.
The father returned to New Jersey after completing his out of state training and settled back in Middlesex County. At the time of the fathers return to New Jersey the mother was working as a teacher in Middlesex County. When she was denied tenure at her teaching position she relocated to Sussex County. The father applied to the court requesting that the court order the mother to return to Middlesex County with the child. The judge ruled in favor of the mother and denied the father’s request to have the mother and child returned to Middlesex County. The father appealed the trial judge’s order. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial judge’s order denying the father’s request to have the mother and child returned to Middlesex County.
The Court’s Reasoning
The court found that a parent of primary residence who desires to move with their child or children, from one location within New Jersey to another, does not have to seek the other parent’s permission, or the court’s permission, prior to their move. However, the court also found that the relocation of a child by the parent of primary residence from one location in New Jersey to another may have a significant impact upon the relationship between the child and the non-residential custodial parent, and in those circumstances it may be necessary to modify the terms of the custodial and parenting-time arrangement.
Lessons From the Schulze Case
The lessons from the Schulze case are clear: (1) The parent of primary residence can move anywhere that they want to in the state of New Jersey without having to seek the other parent’s permission, or the court’s permission. Notification is required, but permission is not. With that said, the custodial parent who is anticipating a move should initiate discussions with the non-custodial parent regarding possible changes to the parenting time schedule in advance of their move. (2) The lesson for the noncustodial parent is that if they want their children to grow up in a certain proximity to where they live they should attempt to negotiate to have a geographic limitation placed on the other parent’s ability to move in their settlement agreement. While the noncustodial parent may not be able to force a limitation on the other parent a discussion of geographic limitations should nonetheless take place during settlement negotiations. One of my clients gave up a portion of his equity in the marital residence to ensure that the mother of his children would remain, with the children, in the house and school district where the parties had lived as husband and wife. The agreement was that if the mother remained in the house until the children graduated from high school she would then be able to sell the house and receive a disproportionate share of the sale proceeds. If she chose to relocate prior to the children’s graduation from high school then she would lose a significant portion of the sales proceeds from the house.
Feel free to contact my office if you have any questions about moving or relocating within the state of New Jersey, or if you have any other questions related to family law. You can contact me at 201-731-3086 (toll-free at 844-431-3380) or via email using the contact form. I have been representing families in northern New Jersey, including: Bergen, Hudson, Passaic, Essex, Union and Middlesex counties for over 20 years. Your initial consultation with me is free of charge.