Many people believe a judge will side with a mother when determining who should receive primary custody of children in a divorce. Although this may have been true in the past when mothers were more likely to stay home and care for children while fathers were better able to provide financial support and stability through their careers, the modern family has evolved in many ways to include stay-at-home dads, same-sex couples and other non-traditional living arrangements that make either parent a viable option as primary custodian.
Legally, a judge is required to determine custody arrangements by considering what will be best for the children involved. But a lawsuit pending in family court seems to indicate that fathers are being marginalized in many cases. Several New Jersey fathers have sued family court judges, claiming their rights to due process were violated in their custody hearings and as a result, they lost custody of their kids.
Edelglass v. DeBello was first filed in February 2014 and recently amended in January 2015. In it, six plaintiffs detailed instances in which they lost rights to custody and visitation after they were treated poorly by the judges presiding over their hearings. Some fathers were given only a few days’ notice about their hearing date, while others had no hearings or ex parte hearings. According to the lawsuit, these actions took away the fathers’ rights to due process in violation of federal civil rights laws.
The story of one plaintiff, as described in the lawsuit, highlights a problematic handling of his right to due process. Joshi was given only a few days’ notice before his July 12, 2012, hearing to determine custody of his children.
At the time, Joshi was planning a funeral for his father, who had recently passed away, and was unable to prepare for the hearing or hire a lawyer. He participated in the hearing over the phone and was unable to cross-examine his ex, who was ultimately granted custody. Judge John Call, Jr. did not allow Joshi to seek a continuance.
The fathers are not seeking damages, but instead hoping to get injunctive and declaratory relief against the judges they feel treated them unjustly. The suit names five family court judges: Lawrence DeBello, Anthony Massi, John Call, Nancy Sivilli, and Maureen Sogluizzo.
The dads say their lawsuit is not intended to overturn the existing arrangements or to disrupt their children’s situations, but simply to highlight what they claim is a “widespread policy and practice of the family courts…to deprive parents of the care, custody, and control of their children without any hearing whatsoever, and sometimes without the parent even being present.”
At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, we represent parents who are going through a divorce or separation and feel that their cases have been handled poorly or that they were not given a full opportunity to present their case for custody. To get started on your case, contact a New Jersey family attorney at HCK today.