Intrastate Relocation in New Jersey
Intrastate relocation in New Jersey used to be a fairly straightforward process. While there were always exceptions, generally, the rule had been that you are free to move about the state of New Jersey as you choose without court approval. A recent decision, A.J. v. R.J., 461 N.J. Super. 173 (2019), has transformed what was previously an easy and usually litigation-free process into one analogous with relocating out of the state.
In A.J. v. R.J. the plaintiff mother moved from Elizabeth to Mount Holly without discussing same with the children’s father, who resided in Union, New Jersey. It is important to note that the mother did not arbitrarily choose to move 60-plus miles away from the children’s father, but did so as a result of her landlord raising the rent and her inability to find a suitable replacement in the same vicinity. When father learned of the move, he filed an emergent application contending that same violated the parties’ marital settlement agreement and interfered with his parenting time. When mother did not return to within 15 miles of Union because she could not afford to do so, as the trial court had previously ordered, the court sanctioned her by awarding primary residential custody of the parties’ three children to the father.
Mother appealed and the Appellate Division reversed, finding that even though the trial court held a plenary hearing, the court did not consider, as required under Rule 5:3-7(a)(6), the best interests of the children under N.J.S.A. 9:2-4 before sanctioning plaintiff and transferring custody of the children. The Appellate Division reasoned that while the trial court had the authority to impose sanctions, including with respect to modifying custody, that did not relieve the court of its obligation to “afford both parents the ability to address whether the transfer of custody is in the best interests of the children.”
The Appellate Division further held that the trial court had utilized overturned case law, thus the wrong legal standard in evaluating the intrastate relocation, and that the case should be viewed through the lens of Bisbing v. Bisbing, 230 N.J. 309 (2017). Bisbing held that the best interest’s standard, under N.J.S.A. 9:2-4 must be applied to interstate relocation because the “science and anticipated outcomes” bolstering the prior case law, have not come to fruition as previously anticipated. Accordingly, the Appellate Division held that the same standard applied to interstate relocation should also be applied to intrastate relocation.
As a result, if you are considering a move, within or outside of the State New Jersey, you must reflect on whether said move would constitute a substantial change in circumstances and what impact that move may have on your children.
Please contact our Family Law Attorneys if you are considering an intrastate relocation and have any questions or concerns so that you may avoid a situation like the one outlined above.