Look Before You Leap When It Comes to Relocating Your Child Outside of New Jersey

Many divorced parents have the best intentions when seeking to relocate their child outside of New Jersey.  Indeed, there are certainly cases where a child’s best interest, and even a child’s safety, requires that a parent be permitted to relocate with his or her child outside of New Jersey.  However, any parent contemplating such a relocation with their child must first seek permission of the other parent prior to the relocation.  If that parent objects, then a court order permitting the relocation is required prior to a parent relocating his or her child outside of New Jersey – no matter the circumstances.

When deciding your application to relocate your child outside of New Jersey, the determining legal question will be whether your proposed relocation is in the best interests of your child.  However, that is a discussion for another blog.  This blog serves as a cautionary tale for any parent who is thinking of relocating their child outside of New Jersey without the other parent’s irrefutable written consent or a court order permitting the move.  In simple terms:  Do not do it.

The recent unpublished decision of Dever vs. Howell is yet another confirmation of the law expressed above. There, where a parent unilaterally chose to relocate his child outside of New Jersey against the wishes of the other parent and without seeking a court order, the court demanded that the child be returned to New Jersey.  While the parent who had relocated with the child attempted to argue that since the move had already occurred, it should be the obligation of the party remaining in New Jersey to demonstrate why the child should be returned, the court and the appellate division outright rejected the argument.  The court ordered the return of the child since the parent who had removed the child outside of New Jersey had not first obtained a court order permitting the removal.

The law of New Jersey is clear:  if the other parent does not consent for you to relocate your child outside of New Jersey, you must seek a court order (even an emergent court order, if necessary) before relocating with your child outside of New Jersey.

Questions do arise.  What if the other parent is abusive and I need to move immediately to protect my child?  While you certainly can obtain emergency relief from the court and police for the appropriate protection if necessary, the above law will still apply.  What if the other parent has not been involved in my child’s life?  While the fact that your child has an absentee parent will certainly increase your chances of success on an application to relocate your child outside of New Jersey, the above law will still apply.  What if I find myself homeless with my child? Again, while you can seek emergency relief from the court, the above law will still apply.  Does it matter if I am not married to my child’s other parent?  No, it does not matter, the above law will still apply. 

Even if the situation requiring you to relocate your child outside of New Jersey is urgent, the solution is not to “leap before you look” and relocate your child from New Jersey prior to obtaining the other parent’s consent or a court order.  You must obtain written irrefutable proof from the other parent or an actual court order (emergent, if necessary) allowing the relocation before you actually relocate your child outside of New Jersey.  Obtain anything less before you “leap” and you will likely find yourself being ordered by the court to return your child to New Jersey – and the court may not be happy when you return.

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