What Happens When It Looks Like Co-Parenting Just Won't Work?

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In theory, you both thought you were acting in the best interests of your child. Admittedly, your relationship didn’t work out. Nonetheless, you wanted to do the right thing. Despite your differences, you figured you could handle co-parenting with your child’s mother or father.

It might not take too long for you to relate to the quote attributed to Laurence Boldt, a self-help author. “Good intentions are not enough; commitment and sacrifice are necessary.”  As far as you’re concerned, your approach works. However, that doesn’t mean everyone views parental obligations to the same extent.

One of the most significant issues that exist between parents that split up is the bitterness that surfaces. For example, it’s hard to bite your tongue when it comes to infidelity. When mothers and fathers end relationships, it’s very seldom pleasant.

It’s something you already know. Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of parental alienation, it’s never easy for your children to understand. After all, they are a part of both of you. In the meantime, how can you possibly co-parent with someone when you can’t come to the simplest of agreements?

A recent New Jersey Appellate Division considered issues regarding co-parenting between parents who never married. The court used initials to represent the names of the parties to allow them to retain anonymity. Additionally, the Appellate Division did not publish the opinion in law books, and it, therefore, has limited use for other cases.

An Alternative to Co-Parenting

The Appellate Division decided D.S. v. J.R. on April 25, 2019. The plaintiff, D.S. is the child’s mother and referred to as Darla. Meanwhile, the father J.R. is referred to as Jerald in the court’s decision.

Darla and Jerald dated from 2009 until 2012. At the time the court decided this matter, their son, Z.R. or Zeke was seven years old.

When Zeke was born in 2011, Darla and Jerald moved in together. They planned to raise him in the same household, but things did not work out with their relationship. Initially, they attempted to co-parent.

In 2014, it became evident that Dara and Jerald had problems co-parenting together. Nevertheless, they were still able to come to an agreement. They signed a consent order regarding sharing joint legal custody and split physical custody, that included language regarding parenting time.

Mother and father agreed that they would revisit the issues when their son because old enough to start kindergarten. Among other things, the consent agreement allocated day-to-day decisions to the parent “on-duty.”

In the meantime, geography ultimately plays an important role in this particular matter. Jerald has always lived in Oxford. Initially, Darla resided in Belvidere, which is near Oxford. She ultimately moved from there to Marlboro and currently lives in Colts Neck.  The distance between Oxford and Colts Neck is at least seventy miles.

Modification of Consent Order

Subsequent to Darla’s relocation, Jerald asked the court to modify the 2014 order. By this time, kindergarten enrollment was imminent.  The father also requested a more equal division of parenting time. For one thing, he wanted Zeke and the child’s stepbrother to develop a closer relationship.

Jerald’s proposal suggested altering segments of the week as far as parenting time. However, Darla rejected the idea. Not only would this mean Jerald would have an extra day, but it also represented what she viewed as too much back and forth between their houses. Notably, at the time, Darla still lived close to Jerald.

In the meantime, Darla decided that she was the parent of primary residence (PRR) and intended to enroll Zeke in the Belvidere school system. That said, Jerald balked as he did not feel it was the best academic choice for their son. For whatever reason, Jerald viewed the idea as extreme parental alienation.

It seemed that the two parents could not agree on very much.  Darla who suggested that meeting with the court-appointed coordinator, Dr. Lee Monday might be helpful.

Darla moved from Belvidere in 2017 and stayed home to care for her children. She claimed the move had everything to do with her husband’s job and her desire to be close to the Jersey shore. She denied her relocation was related to Jerald or his relationship with their child.

 When Jerald filed the motion to modify the 2014 order, he requested that the court appoint him as the parent of primary residence (PRR). Jerald also asked the court’s intervention in enrolling Zeke in Oxford schools, as well as a modification of the parenting time schedule.

Trial Court Hearing

After a six-day hearing considering each party’s argument, the trial court issued an order and a thirty-three page written statement. The bottom line focused on the reasons the judge denied Jerald’s application. Ultimately, the Appellate Division concurred with what it viewed as the trial court’s “thoughtful and well thought out decision.”

The parties both presented their differences in parenting style. Jerald described himself as more disciplined and structured. He felt his home was more stable. Furthermore, Jerald claimed that Darla told him that he did not want their son to turn out like him.

According to Jerald, Darla had a more permissive approach. For example, she let Zeke sleep in bed with her.

Both mother and father admitted they argued over many issues and co-parenting did not seem feasible. Dr. Monday’s testimony corroborated the series of events indicating the two parents had problems.

Jerald retained an expert who opined that Jerald should be appointed as the PRR. However, the expert also admitted that both parents were capable of caring for the child.

There are fourteen factors that judges consider in making custody decisions.  In reviewing this matter, the trial court opinion extensively studied each of them. In the end, the judge determined that a shared parenting plan was infeasible due to the geographic distance between the parents.

Meanwhile, the trial court came up with a plan designed in the best interests of the children. The plan allowed Jerald additional time with Zeke during sports seasons. Since the move made it more difficult for father and son to meet together, the judge altered the parenting schedule to give them extra time together.

The judge also addressed concerns regarding Darla’s “demonstrated parental alienation.” The court even warned that "If there are further concrete examples of parental alienation by [Darla], the court can envision a scenario where it may be in [Zeke's] best interests to reside with [Jerald] in Oxford."

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Child custody and parenting time decisions are often contemptuous. Contact the Law Offices of Sam Stoia to learn how we can help you work through the courts in the best interests of your child.