When a custody arrangement is determined by the court, the most important factor in the judge's decision is the child's best interests. Most couples who settle their divorces privately also put their children's best interests first, even if it causes them emotional and financial hardships. However, a child's needs and wants change greatly over time. Custody terms that worked when your child was a toddler, for example, may not be appropriate or practical when he or she becomes a teenager with academic, social and financial responsibilities. That's why the New Jersey family courts allow for changes to the existing custody order, as long as both parents consent to the terms.
The issue becomes a lot more complicated when it's the child who wishes for the change. At some point, most divorced parents end up having to deal with angry or rebellious children who refuse to visit them. The estrangement is temporary in most cases, so it's best to give your child space and time, while attempting to maintain contact through indirect means such as phone calls and emails. If your child repeatedly refuses to see you for a period of week or months, you may need to take direct actions towards remedying the situation.
You should start by speaking with your former spouse, if at all possible. If he or she refuses to talk about it, or sides with your child, you may need to ask the court to enforce the visitations. You must tread carefully, however, when it comes to legal actions involving parental rights versus the child's preference. While New Jersey goes to great lengths to uphold a parent's rights, it cannot ignore the wishes of a child who has the mental and emotional capacity to make certain choices. There are no guarantees on how a judge will view your case, but an experienced family law attorney can advise you on the pros and cons of going to court.
First, if your child is 16 or older, the court will take his or her opinion very seriously. They will try to determine whether your child's reason is valid, and not based on something trivial like you not allowing them to have parties at your house. Younger children's wishes are not ignored, but the court will lean more heavily on what it determines to be the child's best interests, which in many cases means enforcing visitations. The court will also examine whether your child appears to have been influenced by the other parent's words or actions. If so, your former spouse may be committing custodial interference, which refers to words or actions that are intended to interfere with a parent's custodial rights. This is a very serious legal matter, so you should speak with a lawyer right away if you suspect that your ex poisoning your child against you. The family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca P.C. look forward to advising you on these, and any other issues pertaining to your parental rights.