Posted April 13, 2020
Courts throughout the State of New Jersey are continuing to enforce custody and parenting time Orders amid the Coronavirus outbreak. Orders that were previously signed by a Judge and filed with the Court will remain in full force and effect.
There are only two ways to have an enforceable custody and/or parenting time Order modified. The first is through an agreement of the parties. If both parents believe it is in the child’s best interest to modify custodial arrangements due to the Coronavirus, the parties can agree to a new arrangement. If the parties wish to formalize the updated agreement, a Consent Order can be prepared and submitted to the Court for judicial review and filing. These agreements can specify that the terms of the Consent Order are the result of the current pandemic and at some point in the future, to be agreed to by and between the parties, an appropriate modification will be necessary.
Parents have voluntarily modified parenting arrangements during the outbreak for a number of reasons. In some cases, healthcare providers have decided that it is in their child’s best interest to spend additional time with the other parent to avoid any potential exposure to the virus. Other reasons to modify the parenting schedule may be to limit the “back and forth” travel between homes and/or provide continuity for the child during a time of online schooling.
The second mechanism to modify a custody and/or parenting time Order is through a motion (FM Dockets) or application (FD Dockets) in the Superior Court of New Jersey. These filings will be decided in the Court’s regular course of business. Accordingly, the filing timelines will remain in place and the parties can expect to wait at least a month, or more depending on the vicinage, before a decision is made. It is highly unlikely that Courts will modify existing and enforceable Orders based on fear and speculation surrounding the COVID-19 virus. With that being said, all parents are expected to follow State and local guidance with regard to stay-at-home Orders as well as social distancing.
As always, if a parent believes that their child is truly in imminent danger, a parent may file an Order to Show Cause seeking emergent relief. Due to the emergent nature of this filing, a parent is required to show that it is necessary for the Court to intervene to prevent irreparable harm.
In closing, the current pandemic has caused tremendous anxiety and insecurity throughout our communities. Parents are looking to do everything in their power to keep their children safe. During this time of great unease, parents are required to follow existing custody and parenting time orders unless and until the parents can reach an agreement to modify the terms of an order, or until a Court makes a further determination.
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