While custody and child support orders must be obeyed as a matter of law, they cannot actually force parents to visit or provide for their children. It's a frustrating reality for many divorced or separated parents who take care of their children with little to no help from their former partners. Most parents initially urge the other parent to become more involved, or keep up with the support payments for the sake of the children. If the other parents continues to be negligent or default on the payments, court intervention may be necessary in order to change or enforce the current order. Court intervention is frequently sought in cases of missed support payments, for which the court can issue penalties such as fines and jail time. However, all the fines and jail time in the world will not change a person's psychological makeup. The custodial parent eventually comes to this conclusion, and accepts the reality of living life as a de facto single parent.
Considering the endless sacrifices made by single parents, it's understandable that they would be angry when the negligent parent returns years later to assert his or her parental rights. These rights encompass a wide variety of issues, such as custody and visitation, objections to how the child is being raised, and requesting a portion of the deceased child's estate. At the heart of all these issues is the concept of “willful abandonment”, which was defined in the ruling of In the Matter of the Estate of Michael D. Fisher, II. The Appellate Court ruling states: “...the court must find that the parent, through his or her unambiguous and intentional conduct, has clearly manifested a settled purpose to permanently forego all parental duties and relinquish all parental claims to the child.”
The key words here are “unambiguous” and “intentional”, which are not easy to prove. Some non-custodial parents lose contact with their ex or children through circumstances that are not within their control. There are also many cases where one parent moves out of state or to another country without telling the other parent. Even without great distances separating them, a child can become estranged from one parent through psychological manipulation by the other parent. It's arguable in these cases that the parent -- even if he or she should have been more proactive -- did not unambiguously and intentionally forsake the child.
If you are facing a legal dilemma with a former partner who willfully abandoned your child, it's imperative that you seek legal advice without delay. These cases typically need to be decided by a judge, which means that you will need representation from a highly qualified family law attorney. Although you are allowed to represent yourself, proving a case of willful abandonment requires extensive trial experience in the New Jersey family courts. The experienced trial attorneys of Villani & DeLuca P.C. will be happy to advise you of your rights and legal options during a free initial consultation.
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