Visitation is easily the issue in which parents have the most flexibility in their divorce. Unfortunately, it also frequently is the issue that can cause the most difficulty. Parents can have differing opinions on what kind of schedule would be best for the children. To further complicate the matter, you need to take into considerations the time restraints on the parents and the children in an effort to create a schedule when each parent is actually able to exercise parenting time. Finally, issues arise regarding the need for the parents to be flexible with the established schedule going forward. Because of these issues, it is important that you have an attorney who has experience in parenting time and visitation situations. Ms. Friedland and Mr. Shaguer are experienced visitation attorneys located in Morris County, NJ.
Visitation in NJ
It is the goal in New Jersey to establish a visitation schedule that will enable children to have regular, ongoing parenting time with both of their parents in order to enable them to maintain their parent/child relationship. In order to achieve this visitation in New Jersey can be costume tailored to what works best for the parents and the children in each situation. These schedules can be anything from an equal parenting schedule to only occasional non-overnight visits depending on what the parents are looking for and what they able to agree upon.
In general there are two recognized types of parenting time schedules in New Jersey, the first is called a “shared parenting schedule” or “sole parenting schedule”. A shared arrangement is any schedule which allows the non-custodial parent 104 overnights a year or more. Anything less than 104 overnights will be considered a sole parenting schedule. In addition to addressing a regular visitation schedule, you will also need to make arrangements for holidays and vacation time.
Unfortunately, parents frequently disagree on what they think the best parenting schedule should be. It is not uncommon for one parent to have concerns about children spending overnights with the other parent during the school week, or for work schedules to interfere with a parents ability to exercise the visitation they are seeking. It is also not uncommon for the children’s schedules and activities to get in the way of one parents ability to exercise visitation.
It is the hope that the parents will be able to reach an agreement on their own. If they cannot, the court will provide them with assistance through the parenting mediation program. If parents still are unable to reach an agreement, an expert may be appointed to provide a recommendation to the court and a hearing may be scheduled to resolve the issue. If this happens, you will need to have a visitation lawyer who is familiar with the assorted New Jersey child visitation laws to represent you.
Modification/ Enforcement of Order in NJ
One of the good things about visitation in New Jersey is that it can always be changed. Just because a schedule worked well when your children were toddlers does not necessarily mean that it will still work when they are teens. The goal is always to serve what is in the best interest of your children. This can change over time. In addition, your circumstances might change making the schedule no longer workable or opening possibilities for additional parenting time that originally weren’t available to you. In these situations either parent can apply to the court for a modification of orders of visitation. Under the current New Jersey visitation laws, prior to rendering a decision on any contested application to modify visitation, parents will be referred to the court parenting mediation program. This program can take several weeks, and in some cases months, to complete.
One problems parents frequently face if failure on the other parents part to follow the agreed upon schedule. A custodial parent may start scheduling activities for the child during your parenting time without your consent and making it impossible for you to exercise your parenting time. A non-custodial parent might start cancelling their visitation at the last minute, or stop taking the children to their activities. In some unfortunate situations, one parent may actually start interfering with the parenting schedule intentionally out of anger. As with any other court order, an order for visitation is intended to be followed, and can be enforced by the court. In some instances, the court may even impose financial sanctions against a non-complying parent or may make its own modifications to the visitation schedule to try to curb this behavior. In these situations, it is important that you have an attorney who is experienced in visitation litigation in New Jersey.
Usually, once the initial anger surrounding the break up subsides, you and the other parent will able to work out a visitation schedule that everyone can live with. To this end, the court will do everything possible to assist you in resolving this on your own. Shortly after filing for divorce, you will attend a parenting education workshop and will also participate in a mediation program provided by the court free of charge. If, after participating in mediation, you are still unable to resolve this issue, the court will normally appoint a mental health expert to prepare a parenting time evaluation (at your expense) and make a recommendation. Unfortunately, these reports are normally quite expensive, in the thousands of dollars, and can take multiple months to complete. Knowing this, our attorneys will work with you to try to resolve your visitation dispute as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Alternatives in NJ
Rather than resign your child’s future to an expert or the Judge, you should consider the alternatives to visitation litigation. You always have the option to submit this issue to mediation or to participate in a collaborative divorce proceeding. As indicated before, the court will provide you with free mediation services to try to help you through this process; however, you may wish to retain a private mediator to work this through prior to filing for divorce. Likewise, if you are already divorced, but are looking to modify your schedule, you may wish to submit the issue to mediation rather than file a motion.
If you think you need more assistance than a mediator can provided, you can try to resolve this through a collaborative divorce process. In that situation, you will be represented by your individual attorney to negotiate on your behalf. In addition, you can choose to have a mental health professional work with you in the process to help you reach an agreement.
Ms. Friedland is a trained Mediator and is trained in Collaborative Law in New Jersey.