Bergen County Modifications Attorneys
Working with You to Improve Your Court Order
When a court issues a judgment for a case, the judge also typically signs a court order detailing the outcome and any steps the parties need to take thereafter. In alimony, child support, and child custody cases, this typically means an order stating each party's responsibilities, such as who has custody of the child or how much child support one party must pay the other.
As time changes, the circumstances surrounding court orders often shift as well. For example, if a person loses their job, they may fall behind on child support payments. When one or more parties involved in a court order experience a substantial change in circumstances, they can file an order modification case. If the court agrees that an order is outdated, it will modify the order to reflect the parties' current situation more accurately.
Mediating Vs. Litigating Order Modifications
It's important to note that not all order modification cases need to happen in court. Most people handle modification cases in one of two ways:
- If both parties agree an order needs to be modified, they can draft a modification agreement together. If the judge approves the agreement, they'll sign it and finalize the modifications.
- If the parties disagree on the need to modify an order, they can litigate the process in court. Both parties attend a hearing and present their case to the court, after which the judge decides whether to modify the agreement. Some courts may require the parties to attend mediation and attempt to reach an agreement before modifying the order in court.
Modifying a Child Custody Order in New Jersey
Changes in Custody Infrequent
Determining how you share custody with a co-parent or former spouse can be one of the most contentious facets of a split. Parents want the assurance that their child is being raised with the love and attention needed in a safe and stable home, and that they will have regular opportunities to spend extended periods of time with their child. Battles over determining custody can take many months to complete. Once resolved, New Jersey courts are reluctant to alter custodial arrangements.
Circumstances often change, however, in the months or years after courts settle the issue of custody. For example, one parent may learn troubling new information about their co-parent’s lifestyle or approach to childrearing, giving rise to doubts about whether the child is safe in that person’s custody. In other cases, work or a new spouse may lead a parent to move out of state, with the relocating parent seeking to bring their child with them to their new home.
When Will New Jersey Courts Change a Child Custody Agreement?
New Jersey family judges making decisions about child custody base their decisions on what they believe to be in the best interests of the child. One factor that courts value heavily when determining child custody is stability. Courts are reluctant to change custodial arrangements, both because changes can undermine the child’s sense of stability and because of the drain of repeated legal actions on the court system.
As a result, a parent seeking a change in custody must file a motion with the court and show that there has been a substantial change in circumstances that justifies a change to the existing custody agreement. The experienced family law attorneys at Herbert & Weiss can help you prove your claim before the Family Part judge when custody is in dispute.
Courts have found that a substantial change in circumstances existed where:
- A parent’s work schedule changed, making them unable to provide care for their child
- The child begins school, or needs to change schools
- The child has special needs requiring care or treatment that one parent is uniquely able to provide
- One or both of the parents has moved away from the other, making it impossible to maintain the existing custodial schedule
- There are signs of child abuse
- One parent develops a substance problem
- A parent’s new romantic partner has created an unsafe or unstable living environment for the child
If the court does establish that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred, the judge may modify the custody order to reflect that judgment.
Changing an Alimony Order in New Jersey
Like child custody modification cases, a party must prove that they experienced a substantial change in circumstances to modify an alimony order. However, family courts don't have clear guidelines regarding what qualifies as a "substantial change in circumstance" in New Jersey.
Some examples of what a court may consider a substantial change in circumstances include:
- An increase in the cost of living;
- An increase or decrease in the paying spouse's income;
- Subsequent employment by the receiving spouse or some other significant increase in income;
- An illness, disability, or other infirmities that arise after the judgment;
- A recipient cohabiting with another partner;
- Changes in federal income tax law.
Suppose a court determines that a sufficient change in circumstance may have occurred. In that case, the court will order a hearing and financial disclosures to determine if an increase is equitable and fair according to the law.
Changing a Child Support Order in New Jersey
The process for modifying a child support order is mostly the same as modifying an alimony order. The party who wishes to modify the order must prove that they have experienced a substantial, unanticipated change in circumstances that will impact that party for the foreseeable future.
However, unlike alimony modification cases, the court must also consider the child's best interests in support modification cases. The judge will assess the following factors:
- The needs of the child;
- The income and economic stability of both parents, including how much they could potentially earn given their backgrounds;
- The age and health of all parties;
- Whether the support recipient is cohabiting with another party;
- The established needs of the child (education, necessities such as food, etc.);
- Whether the child has any earning abilities of their own
- Other needs the child possesses (medical expenses, for example);
- Any other factors the court considers relevant.
If the court believes a support order can be adjusted to accommodate a change in circumstances without jeopardizing a child's quality of life, they will do so.
At Herbert & Weiss, LLP, we help New Jerseyans pursue order modifications to make their lives easier.
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