Most lawyers will tell you that with the possible exception of criminal law, domestic law is the area of practice most fraught with emotion. Is it any wonder? Court proceedings involving divorce, custody and visitation rights, child support and alimony often include conflict between the parties and do lasting damage to not only the couple involved but their nuclear and extended families as well.
A final divorce order doesn’t necessarily put an end to potential hostilities either. Circumstances often change and then one of the parties discovers it needs to go back to court for modification of child or spousal support, a change to the visitation schedule or some other matter affecting custody such as child relocation. And, usually, the other party is none too happy about it.
Child relocation can be (and often is) a very contentious matter simply because it can significantly decrease the access of the non-custodial parent to the child/children of the marriage. Combine this with the fact that there are specific procedural requirements that must be met and it becomes clear why hiring a family law attorney is strongly recommended. Yes, you can, if you want, bring a child relocation matter on your own but to do so is, frankly, inviting trouble.
The Relocation Process
A family law attorney (also known as a divorce lawyer) has the experience and training necessary to navigate the legal landscape of child relocation. While you may be tempted to choose a lawyer you’re related to or who comes recommended by a friend or coworker, you do yourself a disservice if the attorney does not have experience in family law matters.
Here are the steps you need to take if you want to move your child or children out of New Jersey:
1. Complete a Notice of Motion. This is the form in which you tell the court and other parties what you want the court to do (in this case, child relocation).
- Set a date for the Motion to be heard. www.njcourts.com allows parties to pick a specific Friday to have the motion heard by a judge as long as required service and answer times are met (more on that later).
2. Complete the Confidential Litigant Information Sheet. This document is designed to ensure the accuracy of all court records related to your divorce. This form must be completed and filed with every new pleading that involves alimony, maintenance, child support, custody, visitation or paternity. The judge hearing the motion is then assured that the file before him/her is accurate and complete.
3. Complete a Certification. This is the form in which you tell the court the specific reasons why you believe the court should grant what you have asked for in your Motion for Relocation of Children. When it comes to the Certification, the reasons must be based on facts you know to be true. The Certification must include a copy of all prior orders issued in the matter. It should also include any and all documents that prove what you say.
4. Complete a Proposed Order. This is exactly what it says it is: An order that you propose the court issue which grants you all of the things you’ve asked for in your motion. The judge may sign your order. If he or she doesn’t agree with everything it contains, they may instead change it. This Proposed Order must be attached to the Notice of Motion along with a stamped self-addressed envelope.
5. Completion of the Certification of Filing and Service whereby you tell the court:
- That all the papers in your motion have been delivered or sent via regular and certified mail, return receipt requested, on the other party within the time requirements set by court rules; or
- That all papers in your motion have been delivered or sent via regular and certified mail, return receipt requested, to the other party’s lawyer, again within the time requirements set by court rules; and
- The manner in which the papers were served on the other party or other party’s lawyer.
6. Completion of the Notice to Litigants. This notice advises the other party how to answer your Notice of Motion and by when that answer must be filed. Failure to provide this notice could lead to dismissal of your motion and you will be required to start over.
7. Completion of the Case Information Statement if you are requesting any monetary relief as part of your motion for child relocation.
8. Completion of the Letter to the Clerk of the Court. This form letter must be the first page of the package you file with your Notice of Motion. The letter is addressed to the Superior Court, Attn: Family Division Manager. It must include a check or money order (no cash) in the amount of $50 made payable to the Treasurer, State of New Jersey.
9. Check and double-check all forms for accuracy and to ensure that all required documents are included and that those documents are signed where necessary.
10. Follow all deadlines imposed by statute and court rules. Your Notice of Motion for child relocation and all accompanying documents must be served on the parties as described above subject to the following:
- If the documents are delivered in person, they must be provided to the other party or his or her lawyer no less than 24 calendar days before the motion is scheduled for hearing
- If the documents are sent via regular and certified mail, return receipt requested, they must be mailed to the other party or his or her lawyer at least 27 days calendar days before your motion is scheduled for hearing.
Why Hire a Family Law Lawyer for Child Relocation?
As these steps show, it is possible for you to personally commence an action for child relocation. Although complex and time-consuming, the task is not impossible for the average lay person but it can be difficult. On the other hand, a family law lawyer is highly equipped to handle such a file.
There is, however, an additional reason you should seriously consider hiring a lawyer to proceed with your Notice of Motion for child relocation, a reason that may not seem obvious at the outset but of which you may become painfully aware as the matter proceeds: Any matter involving children of the marriage can cause friction which can take its toll on the parents and children alike.
When conflict arises, people frequently become emotional. When they become too emotional, it can cloud their judgment. What started as a comparatively simple matter can spiral out of control and become a bitterly contested fight. Your divorce lawyer acts as a buffer in such circumstances, allowing you to communicate to your ex without communicating directly with your ex. Confrontation is minimized and the children are spared the heartache caused whenever they witness their parents fighting.