Modification of Parenting Time in NJ & the Best Interests of the Child

Sep 14, 2017

Courts in New Jersey generally view modification of parenting time as a change in the custody arrangement between the parties.  Thus, to successfully modify a custody arrangement, a party must show (1) a substantial change of circumstances, and (2) that the best interests of the child would better be served by a change in parenting time.  Raucci v. Valotta is a recent Appellate Division case in New Jersey addressing a request for modification of parenting time.      

In Raucci, the parties were dating for three years with a son born of the relationship.  Through mediation, the parties were able to resolve the majority of their parenting issues. 

The parties eventually entered two consent orders providing joint legal custody, a parenting time plan, and child support of $100 per week to be paid by plaintiff-father.  The parties had tremendous difficulty agreeing to a custody arrangement, but eventually arrived at the following terms: (1) joint legal custody; (2) neither party would be designated the parent of primary residential custody; and (3) a parenting time schedule.

The parenting time schedule specifically provided the following fourteen-day cycle: “plaintiff picks up the child on Thursday at 11:15 a.m. and returns the child on Friday at 12:30 p.m., plaintiff picks up the child on Monday at 11:15 a.m. and defendant picks up the child on Tuesday between 12:15 and 12:30 p.m., plaintiff then has the child for the weekend beginning Friday at 11:15 a.m. with defendant picking up the child on Monday between 12:15 and 12:30 p.m.” 

Two issues remained unresolved: the number of overnights that plaintiff-father should be credited for child support and the amount of child support.  Arguments for both were heard before the trial court, after which the judge entered an order (1) holding that the parties shared a 50/50 parenting time schedule; (2) determining that a deviation from the New Jersey Child Support guidelines was proper under the circumstances; (3) denying both parties’ requests for child support; and (4) requiring the parties to split the child’s healthcare related expenses.

Defendant appealed, arguing that the judge erred in (1) crediting plaintiff with equal parenting time, (2) finding that the parties had a 50/50 parenting time schedule, and (3) denying her request for child support.  Plaintiff cross-appealed, arguing the reverse – that plaintiff should in fact pay him child support given that he was exercising eight out of the fourteen overnights with their son.

The Appellate Division disagreed with both parties’ appeals and affirmed the order.  In doing so, the Appellate Division narrowed the parties’ appeals to one primary issue regarding whether the parties had a 50/50 parenting time schedule.  The Appellate Division found plaintiff’s argument that he is exercising eight of the fourteen overnights was based on a “highly technical” reading of the Child Support Guidelines.  Thus, the trial court’s decision to treat the parenting time arrangement as 50/50 was affirmed because the judge acted within his discretion in rejecting plaintiff’s argument.  The Appellate Division did note, however, that the trial court also had the discretion to award plaintiff some credit for the extra time spent with the child.         

Regarding the child support requests, the Appellate Division also agreed with the trial court because the parties had roughly equal income ($15,000 difference) and parenting time.  The Appellate Division emphasized that this is a temporary order likely to change when the child begins attending school.

This case clearly indicates that a court in New Jersey has wide discretion in this area, and each case requesting modification of custody or parenting time will come down to a fact-by-fact analysis.    

If you have any questions regarding parenting time or child custody, please contact the skilled matrimonial attorneys at Sarno da Costa D’Aniello Maceri LLC.  Call us today at (973) 274-5200.