Most custody agreements in New Jersey designate one parent as the “custodial” parent, which means that the child will live with that parent majority of the time. Except in extreme circumstances, the non-custodial parent still has legal custody, which pertains to the right to make important decisions on the child's behalf. The non-custodial parent also has a right to see the child on a regular basis through scheduled visits, which may include overnight stays, and certain holidays and vacation days. Unfortunately, some custodial parents take deliberate actions to interfere with the other parent's visitation rights. Legally, “interference” refers to any act that inhibits contact between the child and parent, such as blocking phone calls, sending the child away on visitation days and moving far away from the other parent without permission. It also includes acts of psychological manipulation, such as speaking badly about the other parent, or convincing the child that the other parent is dangerous or abusive. Although some parents deliberately make things difficult for the other parent, there are cases where the non-custodial parent's actions may have contributed to custodial interference. For instance, if the non-custodial parent continually shows up without permission on non-scheduled days, it may motivate the custodial parent to deny them visitation altogether. There are also cases in which the custodial parent cuts off visitation because the other parent has stopped paying child support. While both situations indicate violations by the non-custodial parent, these are not legitimate reasons for interfering with their visitation rights. The custodial parent should, however, file a motion with the courts to seek relief from unauthorized visits or failure to pay child support.
Custodial interference is a serious offense, and may even be considered a criminal act under certain circumstances. Under New Jersey Statute 2C:13-4, “interference with custody is a crime of the third degree”, and may be elevated to a crime of the second degree if the child is “taken, detained, enticed or concealed” for more than 24 hours or outside of the United States. Non-custodial parents should speak to an experienced family law attorney right away since you will have to petition the courts. In certain cases, the judge may refer the case to the county prosecutor for a criminal proceeding, although most cases are handled solely through the family courts. In order to protect the non-custodial parent's rights, the judge can impose penalties on the custodial parent, and order modifications to the current parenting plan. For example, the judge may order the custodial parent to cover the other parent's legal fees and pay for counseling in order to help restore the relationship between the child and the other parent. Changes may be made to the current visitation schedule and the method of pick-up and delivery in order to limit contact between the parents. In cases of extreme interference, the judge will issue an order to have the custodial parent arrested and jailed. These cases include multiple and repeated attempts to alienate the child from the parent, or intentionally fleeing with the child.
If you are a parent who is being denied contact with your child, please speak to Partner Vincent C. DeLuca, Esq. of Villani & DeLuca. Mr. DeLuca has been a family law attorney for over 20 years, specializing in areas such as child custody, parenting time, child support and parenting plan modifications. He will advise you of all the available legal options, such as filing a motion with the family courts and charging the other parent with criminal interference with custody or visitation. Please call (732) 965-3404 to schedule a free consultation!