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Superior Ct. Ruling on Custody Arrangement Emphasizes Financial Stability

April 5, 2013 | Posted In Family Law - Custody

A New Jersey mother can move her child to North Carolina, even though she does not have a new job lined up yet, according to a recent ruling from Superior Court Judge Lawrence Jones.  The mother, Latifah Benjamin, need only prove that she has a "reasonable plan for providing the child in her care with an economically stable home in the new state." New Jersey family attorneys say that this decision will open the door for more parents to explore their location options, especially in a volatile economy.

In Benjamin v. Benjamin, FM-15-1212-08-N,Latifah and her daughter, referred to in the case as S.B., lived in an apartment with Latifah's new husband and his teenager. In May 2012, Latifah sought permission from the state to move with her daughter to North Carolina, where she had plans to buy a house. She claimed that it was financially impossible for her to own a home in New Jersey, but that North Carolina offered more realistic real estate opportunities. The relocation would also put her and her daughter closer to family. In addition to buying a house, Latifah intended to start a new job, but had not yet found one in the new location.

Winer Benjamin, Latifah's ex-husband, countered in court, claiming that without a job secured in North Carolina, Latifah may not be able to adequately provide for their daughter. He argued that Latifa could face months of unemployment, and put their child in a financially unstable environment. He filed for residential custody of their daughter. Latifah's New Jersey family lawyers argued that she could not accept a position in North Carolina without knowing for sure that she would be granted permission to move. Jones sided with Latifah, saying that "[g]iven the reality of…present economic times, it may be highly unrealistic to expect an employer in another state to offer guaranteed employment to an arms-length job applicant" with an unknown start date. Additionally, Jones mentioned that splitting up child and parent while the courts come to a decision is equally impractical.

In his decision, Jones noted Latifah's employability, citing her current job as an assistant property manager earning about $40,000 per year, and her resume of steady jobs.  He also pointed out her husband's management-level job with a country-wide company. Jones alluded that these factors, rather than guaranteed employment, should carry the most weight when considering a divorced parent's request to move. Moreover, other circumstances such as the current job market, North Carolina's cost of living, and the surrounding family who could provide child care were factors taken into consideration. He also highlighted Latifah's desire to buy a house for her family as a "very logical and reasonable component of planning for a family's future economic security."

When a divorced couple shares custody of children, relocation requests are potential minefields for the judges who must decide what is best for the child. Jones's decision puts the focus on financial responsibility, and New Jersey family lawyers say that such a focus often leads to what is best for the children involved.  The family lawyers at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, in New Jersey hope that this case will influence other judges to rule in a similar fashion, so that the lives and financial security of children remain at the forefront of every custody conversation.

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