May 19, 2014

Appellate Court: Judge’s Ruling Protected Kids; Did Not Violate Mom’s Rights

child%20custody.jpg
A Hunterdon County woman lost her appeal of a New Jersey judge’s ruling preventing her from mentioning her ex-husband or children in any of her online posts. That ban was imposed as part of the woman’s probation for a custody agreement violation. (1)

This case highlights the seriousness with which New Jersey courts view infringement of child custody arrangements. According to reports, the woman was charged with violating the custody agreement between her and her ex-husband and with attempted kidnapping of her children after taking them from New Jersey to New York, with the intention of eventually taking them across the border into Canada. She pleaded guilty to the custody agreement violation and, in return, the kidnapping charges were dropped. In response to the woman’s guilty plea, she received five years’ probation, the terms of which included a prohibition against writing anything online about her family. She was also prohibited from having contact with her children and her ex’s family. (1)

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May 5, 2014

New Bill Allows Adoptees Access to Birth Records; Offers Privacy Protection to Some Birth Parents

birth%20records.jpgIt took more than 30 years, but New Jersey lawmakers may have finally reached a compromise that satisfies both adoptees’ right to know and their birth parents’ right to privacy. That compromise is the basis for a bill which, last week, won conditional approval from Gov. Chris Christie, and now awaits final approval by both the State Senate and Assembly next week. (1)

Gov. Christie announced he would sign the bill provided it allowed a “suitable” period of transition for parents of birth children adopted before August 1, 2015 to decide if and how they would like to be contacted. He recommended that the law not take effect until after December 31, 2016 in order to accommodate this. Usually laws take effect six months after being signed. (1)

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March 24, 2014

Court Paves the Way for Parents to Share in Liability for Their Children’s Harassing Behavior

bullying.jpgIn 2011 New Jersey adopted its Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights in response to the Federal Government’s efforts to protect people, especially children, from this growing problem. Since then, schools have been responsible for addressing claims of bullying and harassment against their students to the point of monitoring even those activities that occur off campus but have the potential of affecting children when in school. Now, two Hunterdon County school districts are asking that the families of alleged bullies, as well as the bullies themselves, share in that accountability. (1)

A New Jersey Superior Court Judge recently refused to deny a motion filed by the Hunterdon Central High School and the Flemington-Raritan school districts requesting that if the districts are found liable for the harassment of one of their students, the bullies and their parents share the liability. Both districts are the subject of a lawsuit originally filed in February 2013 claiming they failed to take sufficient action to stop harassment toward one of their students. According to the lawsuit, the bullying began while the student was in fourth grade and continued through high school and involved both verbal and physical harassment. The lawsuit further claims that the harassment led to the victim developing health issues that required hospitalization for three months. (1)

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February 24, 2014

Another Attempt to Grant Adoptees Access to Medical History under Consideration

medical%20records.jpgEfforts to provide New Jersey adoptees with access to their medical and genealogical histories while protecting biological parents’ rights to privacy are under way once again. (1) This time, however, lawmakers hope they have found a workable compromise.

The latest revisions to a bill first introduced in 1980 are expected to be voted on by both the State Senate and the Assembly this week. (2) The revision would grant adoptees access to their birth certificates, including the identities of their biological parents, so that these adoptees would have open-ended access to family medical histories. As for the biological parents, the bill would allow them to stipulate whether or not they wish to be contacted. Those opting not to have any contact with the child they surrendered for adoption would be required to provide a detailed medical history and urged to update that history on an as-needed basis. (1)

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January 27, 2014

Home Alone – When is it Okay to Leave Your Child Unattended

baby%20in%20car.jpgAt what age is it okay to leave a child unattended? In New Jersey, the answer depends on a number of circumstances, including where the child is being left.

A New Jersey appeals court recently ruled that a parent or custodial guardian who leaves a young child unattended in a motor vehicle, even if only for a few minutes, can be charged with abuse or neglect. This decision was in response to a 2009 case in which a mother left her young child asleep in a car seat while she ran into a store to purchase party supplies. Although she was gone only for a few minutes, the police were present when she arrived back at her car and she was arrested. Originally charged with child endangerment, the woman requested a hearing with Child Protective Services. However, since she did not deny leaving her child alone, her request for a hearing was denied.(1)

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December 2, 2013

New Bills Intended to Protect Teens from Megan’s Law and Internet Pitfalls

texting.jpg
When Megan’s Law was adopted in 1994 the purpose was to warn people of the potential dangers they may face from a convicted sex offender living in their immediate vicinity. Under the law, those convicted of certain sex crimes must enroll in a central registry which, in turn, would be made available over the internet. Those crimes which are subject to Megan’s Law requirements include sexual conduct that would damage the morals of a child, including sharing naked pictures of children.(1)

Sexting is the act of messaging nude photos of yourself to others via your smart phone. Under Megan’s Law even teenagers who engage in sexting could be required to register as sex offenders, a label that could stay with them for life. Technically, even a person taking a naked photo of him or herself can be charged with possession of child pornography if they are underage. A new bill passed by a State Assembly committee last month would protect teens from being branded as sex offenders as the result of an impetuous act.(2)

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November 18, 2013

National Adoption Day: Hoping to See Foster Children Find Their Forever Homes

baby-adoption-web.jpg
Saturday, November 23, is National Adoption Day. This will be the fourteenth year a day has been set aside to highlight the over 100,000 children waiting to be adopted out of the foster care system in this country.(1) That is only a fraction of the total number of children in foster care, estimated by the Department of Health and Human Services to be approximately 400,000, which includes children placed in the system on a temporary basis.(2)

The goal of National Adoption Day is to celebrated adoptive families, to see the adoption of as many foster children as possible finalized, and to build a stronger relationship between those agencies imperative to the adoption process – courts, adoption agencies and adoption advocacy groups. To date, this day has helped to facilitate the adoption of about 44,500 children out of the country’s foster system. Last year alone, over 4,500 adoptions were finalized on this day. The National Adoption Day Coalition estimates that another 4,500 children could be adopted out of foster care on this year’s National Adoption Day.(1)

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July 3, 2013

Bill Would Grant Adoptees Access to Birth Records While Protecting Birth Parents’ Privacy

baby%20and%20women%20for%20adoption.jpgWhen it comes to adoptions, the question of whose rights should take precedence – those of the adopted child or those of the biological mother – has long been debated. However, a new bill recently cleared by the State’s Health Committee may have found the compromise. (1)

In general, there are two types of adoptions: open adoptions and closed, or confidential, adoptions. In an open adoption, birth parents and adoptive parents can obtain identifying information about each other and come to agreements regarding how much or how little involvement the birth parents can have in the adopted child’s life. It should be noted that in New Jersey, while open adoptions are allowed, they are not enforceable by law. In other words, there is no legal way to enforce any agreements reached between birth and adoptive parents should either party change their mind. (2)

In closed adoptions, while adoptive and birth parents may meet, it is on a first-name only basis. No identifying information (i.e., last names, Social Security numbers) are exchanged, and the birth parents have no involvement in the raising of the adopted child once their parental rights have been surrendered. (2)

Adoptees have long argued that they have rights to information concerning their biological backgrounds, particularly medical information that may affect them or their offspring. Biological parents, particularly mothers, on the other hand, have fought for their right to privacy, especially in cases where the child given up for adoption was the result of a traumatic experience.

New Jersey law permits birth records to be released only by court order, although access to medical history is permitted in adoptions that have taken place since 1979. (1) For decades, efforts have been made to unseal New Jersey adoption records but have failed. Two years ago, the Adoption Rights bill passed the New Jersey Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie. That bill would have given adoptees access to their birth certificates, allowing them to learn the identities of their birth parents. While adoptees were in favor of this bill, advocates for birth parents argued that it violated the birth parents’ rights to privacy. (3)

Now one more attempt is being made to satisfy both sides of the adoption argument. The latest bill, which is up for full Senate review, would permit adult adoptees to ask the State Health Department for their birth certificates. Adoptees would then learn whether or not their birth parents wish to be contacted and, if so, whether they want that contact to be made directly or through an intermediary. This bill would also give those adopted in or before 1979 access to their medical records. (1)

(1) http://blog.nj.com/njv_editorial_page/2013/06/nj_bill_attempts_to_strike_bal.html
(2) http://www.njsbf.org/image/content/1/1/11268/Adoption_layout.pdf
(3) http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2011/05/10/adoption-rights-bill-moving-closer-to-becoming-law-in-n-j/

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June 1, 2013

Use Diligence to Keep Children Safe around the Water

boy-swimming.jpgMemorial Day has passed, temperatures are rising and the school year is rapidly coming to an end. This is the time of year when attention turns to summer vacations and, for many, that means taking to the water. Whether you plan to enjoy the beach, a lakeside resort or your own backyard oasis, it is important to take precautions to prevent accidents that can turn your summer vacation into a tragedy.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recently released disturbing statistics relating to children and water-related accidents. Based on data collected over the past three years, an average of 390 children under 15 drown every year, including 296 children younger than 5. During that same time, hospital emergency rooms treated about 5,100 children for injuries suffered from being submerged in the water; 4,000 of them were under 5. (1)

Despite these statistics, an overwhelming number of people (63%) polled by the American Red Cross admitted they would take their families swimming in unguarded waters this summer. Almost 50% of those polled never had swimming lessons. A majority of those surveyed also said they believed the use of “water wings” (inflatable bands worn around the arms) or the buddy system were adequate substitutions for adult supervision of children in the water. (2)

According to the CPSC, drowning is the major cause of accidental deaths of children in the 1 to 4 year age group. The CPSC also disclosed that about 85% of water-related deaths of children under 5 and about 50% of water-related injuries for that same age group occur in private backyard pools. (1)

Homeowners have an obligation to prevent accidental drowning or injuries on their property. New Jersey has regulations regarding enclosures for private pools. Pools must be fenced in such a way as to prevent children from entering the area unsupervised. These regulations include, among other things, restrictions on the height of a fence, spacing and location of the rails, and security and functionality of the gate access. Often these restrictions will be stipulated in the permits obtained from local municipalities before installing your pool. (3)

There are a variety of safety precautions you can take to avoid becoming a statistic. Organizations such as the Red Cross and the YMCA urge people to educate themselves on water safety. The Y, as well as other health clubs and private schools, offers swim classes for children of all ages and adults. There are also classes available through agencies like the Red Cross designed to train people on what to do in the event of a water emergency. (4)

Diligence and common sense, along with adherence to local regulations, can help us keep our children safe this summer as they beat the heat with a refreshing dip in the water.

(1) http://money.msn.com/home-insurance/article.aspx?post=77ee4423-a758-4152-bbfe-5b5f87006127
(2) http://nj1015.com/stay-safe-swimming-this-summer-audio/
(3) http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2010/Bills/S1500/1278_I1.HTM
(4) http://www.nj.com/messenger-gazette/index.ssf/2013/03/ymca_swim_programs_teach_confidence_safety_1.html


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February 12, 2013

Early Intervention Program for Young Offenders

If you are a parent or guardian of a teenager between the ages of 13 to 17 who has committed a minor legal infraction, help may be available thanks to the Hunterdon County early intervention program announced the 14th of January this year by the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office. After successful pilot programs in a few municipalities throughout Hunterdon County last year, the County adopted the program joining Morris County, who has had a comparable program for years. Hunterdon County’s program is the Law Enforcement Adolescent Program, also known as L.E.A.P. By successfully completing L.E.A.P, a teenager’s minor infractions will not be recorded as a criminal charge in the system.

Although intended for offenders who commit first-time infractions associated with substance abuse, anger management, issues related to school or family matters, L.E.A.P may also offer repeat offenders enrollment at the discretion of the Hunterdon County L.E.A.P Officer. Additionally, the court may mandate enrollment.

The objective of L.E.A.P is to help teens make better life choices by providing therapeutic support and counseling as opposed to being charged with a crime. L.E.A.P participants receive objective guidance in the hope of causing participants to reflect on choices they made in the past, allowing them to gain further understanding and awareness about how to go about changing their behaviors in the future. Additionally, the program will be a source of encouragement, offering tools to avoid further criminal justice system involvement. Also, it is important to note that there is little to no cost to the teenager’s family.

L.E.A.P is offered by the HPR (Hunterdon Prevention Resources) in collaboration with the County Prosecutor Anthony P. Kearns, III. Serving Hunterdon County for 40+ years, HPR provides prevention and educational services in addition to community and individual treatment programs. Lesley Gabel, the HPR L.E.A.P. Director, works in conjunction with Program Coordinator Jerri Collevechio; the Town of Clinton Police Department’s Patrolman James Kramer has been named as the Hunterdon County L.E.A.P. Officer.

For more information about HPR and its services, visit hunterdonprevention.com or call 908-782-3909.

(1) Media Release – January 14, 2013, “Hunterdon Prosecutor Announces New Juvenile Initiative”
(2) Hunterdon County Democrat, January 31, 2013 “Intervention program for young offenders” by John Slevers, The Express Times
(3) nj.com “The Hunterdon Prosecutor’s Office announces a new program to keep kids out of trouble”

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January 22, 2013

Why It Is Important to Establish Paternity

keith's child support

keith's child support (Photo credit: Sean Durham)

A recent story on msn.com suggested that Chris Humphries, estranged husband of Kim Kardashian, is the legal father of the baby she is currently carrying. Yet, anyone who follows celebrity news knows that Kanye West is that baby’s daddy. Which is it?

What the MSN article was referring to is the legal definition of “father.” Under California law, Mr. Humphries could be considered the legal father of Ms. Kardashian’s unborn child because the couple’s divorce is not yet finalized. New Jersey has similar legal definitions of “father.” Under New Jersey law, a man is presumed to be the father of a child if the child’s birth occurs during the marriage of that man to the child’s biological mother or within 300 days of the termination of that marriage. (1)

In most cases, this definition accurately defines “father.” The relationship is questioned, however, when the couple separates, the marriages ends in divorce, or a child is conceived outside the marriage. In those situations, as long as the biological father acknowledges his relationship with the child in some manner, there should be few problems.

Establishing paternity is important to parents and child alike. First, it determines who is responsible for providing for the child. Although most reasonable people accept the responsibilities of parentage when raising their families, when relationships end, the lines of responsibility may blur. Child support orders can be enforced, however, with paternity established.

Even when child support is not an issue, establishing paternity evens out the playing field between children born in and out of wedlock. A child is entitled to certain benefits from his or her legal father, including inheritance rights and Social Security and veteran’s benefits. (2) Once paternity is established, these rights and benefits cannot be denied.

Establishing paternity can occur at any time prior to the child’s reaching the age of majority. Three basic ways of establishing paternity are for the biological parents to marry; for the biological father to file a voluntary acknowledgment or paternity affidavit; or for the court to order a paternity test. In New Jersey, this test is a non-invasive procedure that involves swabbing the inside of the mouth of all parties involved. (3)

Financial benefits are not the only reasons for establishing paternity. By knowing the identity of his or her biological parents, a child has access to medical and cultural background information which can be useful throughout his or her lifetime. (2)

If you or someone you know needs assistance with a paternity issue, particularly in Hunterdon County, the family law attorneys at The Rotolo Law Firm can be of assistance. The Rotolo Law Firm is located at 502 U.S. Highway 22 in Lebanon, NJ.

(1) http://www.dna-testing-paternity.com/paternity-laws/new-jersey-state-paternity-laws
(2) http://www.thebeehive.org/money/child-support/how-do-you-collect-child-support/step-1-establish-paternity
(3) http://www.ehow.com/how_6025191_file-paternity-test-new-jersey.html

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January 1, 2013

Foreign Adoptions Carry Unique Risks

Adoption (film)

Adoption (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About 1,500 American families, including some New Jersey residents, recently had their dreams shattered when a bill banning Russian orphan adoptions by U.S. citizens was signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, a move that highlights one of the risks of international adoptions. (1)

Each year thousands of Americans turn to foreign countries to adopt. One reason international adoptions are so popular is that the time and expense involved in the process is often more predictable than when adopting a domestic child. A major drawback is that when and if relations between the U.S. and the foreign country fall apart, these adoptions can be stopped – even in mid-process -- leading to heartache for the adoptive parents and children alike.

In 2011 U.S. families adopted 9,319 children from foreign countries; of those, 962 children were from Russia. These foreign adoptions are usually arranged by private, non-profit agencies. Typically around 83% of adoptive parents are matched with children in less than one year. The waiting time to adopt healthy infants in the U.S. can range from 1 to 7years, whereas, international adoptions typically take between 6 and 18 months. (2) For someone anxious to start or expand their family, that difference can seem like a lifetime.

Anyone considering an international adoption should be aware of certain issues they may face. The health and background information they receive on their child may not be complete or reliable. Also, as political relationships between countries change, these adoptions can be opened or closed on a whim, (2) as evidenced by the recent action in Russia.

New Jersey automatically recognizes foreign adoptions as long as the adoptive parents are U.S. citizens and residents of the State. However, it is recommended that those who successfully adopt a foreign child go through a re-adoption process. A New Jersey Judgment of Adoption can offer certain protections to parents and children that may be lacking in a foreign adoption decree. It also helps solidify the child’s inheritance rights. Costs associated with a re-adoption, on average, are notably less than the cost of a domestic adoption. (3)

For those who prefer to adopt a domestic child, the New Jersey Department of Children & Families successfully places more than 1,000 children each year. All children adopted through this Division are special needs children. The waiting time to complete these adoptions depends on a number of things: the type of child referred for placement; the background of the prospective adoptive family; and the family’s flexibility concerning the child’s needs. (3)

Adoptions, whether domestic or foreign, are complicated matters. To assure a successful outcome and avoid heartache, you should seek the advice of a qualified and experienced family law attorney. If you or someone you know needs assistance with an adoption issue, contact the family law attorneys at The Rotolo Law Firm located at 502 Route 22 West, Lebanon, NJ.

(1) http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/12/26/russia-adoption-ban-americans/1791959/
(2) http://www.theadoptionguide.com/options/international-adoption
(3) http://www.nj.gov/njfosteradopt/adoption/

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October 24, 2012

High Court Grants Parents the Right to Request Paternity Tests

Holding hands

Holding hands (Photo credit: Marco Nedermeijer)

When the paternity of a child is in question, parents do have the right to request a genetic test from the State, according to a recent decision by the New Jersey State Supreme Court. (1) This recent decision, which was in response to a 2006 Morris County divorce case, overturned a lower court ruling denying the request for a State-sponsored test because it would not be in favor of the child involved. In the divorce, the husband expressed doubt that the youngest of his three sons was his actual biological offspring, claiming instead the child was the son of his brother-in-law. The brother-in-law neither denied nor admitted paternity. The husband, however, proved his suspicions through private testing and sought repayment of money he spent raising the child. (1)

While this case may be unusual, paternity matters play a role in a number of areas, including divorce cases, inheritance and beneficiary issues, and especially child support orders. Failure to meet those child support orders in this State can result in penalties ranging from the seizure of tax refunds to the revocation of professional and/or driver’s licenses and, ultimately, to arrest and possible jail time. (2)

An estranged father has a lot to risk if he fails to meet his parental obligations and these obligations are no small matter. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the cost of raising a child for the first 17 years of his or her life at about $235,000 for families with an annual income between $59,000 and $103,000. The cost fluctuates from about $160,000 for lower income families to about $300,000 for higher income families. (3)

With so much at stake, it is certainly understandable for a man with doubts to want to prove paternity before accepting responsibility for a child, and this recent decision confirms his right to do so. If you have doubts about paternity, contact Victor Rotolo and the Hunterdon County family lawyers at The Rotolo Law Firm. The firm is located on Route 22 in the westbound lane, minutes from the intersection of Routes 78 and 31.

(1) http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2012/10/court_parents_can_get_geneteic.html
(2) http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/prose/10752_guide_njj_csep.pdf
(3) http://money.cnn.com/2012/06/14/news/economy/cost-raising-child/index.htm


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September 30, 2012

Bill Would Increase Child’s Representation in Proceedings to Terminate Parental Rights

Photographed by Daniel Case 2006-07-27

Photographed by Daniel Case 2006-07-27 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A bill pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee, if passed, would increase representation for children in parental rights termination cases. (1) Termination of parental rights is a serious, irrevocable action in New Jersey. If, after reading the following, you need assistance with a legal parenting issue, particularly in Hunterdon County, contact the family law attorneys at The Rotolo Law Firm in Lebanon, N.J.

Today, children whose parents are involved in a parental rights termination proceeding are represented by a law guardian appointed by the Office of Parental Representation, a division of the state’s Public Defender’s Office. While this is not a criminal charge, it does require a court hearing. The law guardian’s responsibility is to make sure the child’s best interest – not what either parent wants – is heard by the Court. He or she has the right to call and cross-examine witnesses during the hearing in order to accomplish this. (2)

Recently the Assembly Judiciary Committee recommended a new bill that would increase the child’s representation in such cases. The bill calls for the Office of Public Defender to provide the child with counsel who would be responsible for making sure the child’s wishes are heard in court and for protecting his or her interests throughout the case until the child’s final placement. (1)

Termination of parental rights proceedings are usually initiated by New Jersey’s Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) as a last resort after other efforts to correct a potentially dangerous situation have failed. Prior to this, DYFS may remove children from the situation temporarily and try to help the parents eliminate any dangerous activities and/or behaviors. If that fails and the child is placed out of the home for 15 out of 22 months, parental rights termination proceedings can be considered. Out-of-home placement in itself is not reason enough for terminating the parents’ rights. Certain standards have been set that would warrant this action and at least one of the standards must be met before the proceedings can be filed. These standards include:
• The child’s best interests;
• Failure or reluctance to fix problems in the home;
• The child being abandoned by a parent or parents;
• A parent being convicted of a crime;
• Other court findings, including murder, assault or other action by a parent that did or could have caused death or serious injury to the child. (2)

New Jersey also allows for voluntary termination of parental rights, a legal process necessary when a biological parent gives a child up for adoption. This can include a divorced parent giving up rights so that the new spouse of his or her ex can adopt the child. (3)

Termination of parental rights means you lose the right to all contact with your child. Usually it is a non-reversible action. The one exception to that in New Jersey involves cases of voluntary termination of parental rights in order to facilitate adoption. If that adoption fails to go through for any reason, the petition for termination of parental rights will be vacated. (3)

It should be noted that termination of parental rights does not eliminate your child support obligation prior to the finalization of the adoption process. Also New Jersey does not allow petitions for termination of parental rights prior to the birth of the child. (3)

If you or someone you know believes their parental rights are in jeopardy, particularly in Hunterdon County, contact the family law attorneys at The Rotolo Law Firm.

(1) http://www.law.com/jsp/nj/PubArticleNJ.jsp?id=1202572985256&hubtype=MAIN%20PAGE&slreturn=20120830075638
(2) http://www.snj.org/pdfs/tprenglish.pdf
(3) http://www.ehow.com/how_8118603_relinquish-parental-rights-new-jersey.html

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September 18, 2012

“Preglimony” – A Fair Financial Arrangement or A Setback to Women’s Rights?

Pregnant lady in beautiful pick flowing dress....

Pregnant lady in beautiful pick flowing dress. People at Morro Bay, CA Fourth of July 2011 Celebration (Photo credit: mikebaird)

Everyone is familiar with alimony, “palimony” and child support, but is society ready for “preglimony?” That’s the debate taking place in legal circles today (1). If, after reading the following, you need the assistance of a Hunterdon County lawyer with support payments of any type, contact the family law attorneys at The Rotolo Law Firm in Lebanon, NJ.

Alimony, sometimes called spousal support, is the payment made by one spouse to another following a divorce to ensure each spouse fair economic treatment. (2) It dates back to a time when it was the norm for a woman to give up a job or career --- and sometimes an education -- in order to take care of her family and home, leaving her with few marketable skills for entering the workforce after divorce. Today, alimony can be awarded to either spouse, based on their ability to adequately support themselves.

Although “palimony” is not a legal term, it is used colloquially to describe support payments similar to alimony awarded by a court to one partner of an unmarried couple following their break-up. (3) “Palimony,” too, aims to make sure both parties receive fair financial treatment.

Child support ensures that a parent’s financial obligation to his or her child does not end with the relationship between the adults. Usually, support payments are made by the non-custodial parent to ensure that he or she shares in the expenses of raising the child.

The newest form of support being debated, “preglimony,” would cover the expenses of a woman’s pregnancy, from prenatal care to time missed from work due to the pregnancy. (1) In the traditional family sense, these expenses are covered out of family finances. “Preglimony” would deal more with children conceived out of wedlock.

Why now? Science has made strides in determining paternity and can now identify the father of an unborn child through a simple prenatal blood test. Supporters of “preglimony” say that fathers should be held financially responsible from the start. Opponents, however, believe this concept opens a lot of legal and ethical questions, including a woman’s right to manage her pregnancy as she sees fit. (1)

Whether the courts ever adopt the concept of “preglimony” is yet to be seen. They do, however, take other support obligations seriously. Penalties for failing to meet your support payments – particularly child support – can even lead to jail time.

If you or someone you know is having a problem with support payments, whether they are paying or receiving the support, particularly in Hunterdon County, the Rotolo family law attorneys can help. The Rotolo Law Firm is located in Lebanon, which is in close proximity to the towns of Clinton and Flemington.

(1) http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/preglimony_would_make_men_financially_responsible_for_pregnancies/
(2) http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/alimony\
(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palimony


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April 8, 2012

New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Marks Six-Month Anniversary

Webcam

Webcam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Friday, April 13, the documentary “Bully” hits theaters across the country. The film aims to bring to light the growing epidemic of bullying that threatens our children. To help stem this epidemic, New Jersey six months ago passed the toughest legislation in the nation to fight bullying in its public schools. (1) If, after reading the following, you need a Hunterdon County lawyer to assist you with a bullying incident involving your child, contact the family law attorneys at The Rotolo Law Firm in Lebanon, N.J.

New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, which went into effect last September, strengthened earlier laws on the State’s books by requiring all public schools to develop comprehensive policies against bullying. Previously schools were only encouraged to do this. (2) This law was passed largely in response to the Tyler Clementi suicide. Clementi was a freshman at Rutgers University; Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge after learning that his college roommate, Dharun Ravi, streamed video of Clementi’s tryst involving another man and invited others to watch. Last month, Ravi was convicted of multiple charges against him including bias intimidation, invasion of privacy and witness tampering. He faces up to ten years in prison and possible deportation when sentenced on May 21. (3)

Clementi is not the only one whose suicide has been linked to bullying and harassment, unfortunately. And while State lawmakers know they cannot end bullying, they hope the stricter laws will lessen the incidents.

The aforementioned movie follows several victims from their schools to their homes, showing the effect bullying has on their lives. It also shows how families, peers and school officials struggle to cope with this problem. (4) New Jersey’s anti-bullying law hopes to change that here by requiring schools to appoint safety teams, train staff and students about what constitutes bullying, and investigate every reported allegation within a very tight timeframe, even those incidents that take place off-campus. (5)

Initially there was some concern that such a stringent law would spur too many lawsuits, but the potential for lawsuits has existed since New Jersey adopted its first anti-bullying laws in 2002. While it may be too early for statistics to tell us how effective the new law is in stemming bullying and preventing teenage suicides, it does give victims of bullying hope in knowing that the schools, as well as the State and law officials are on their side. (5)

If you or someone you know needs help with a bullying incident, particularly in Hunterdon County, contact the family law attorneys at The Rotolo Law Firm for assistance.

(1) http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/03/6_months_into_nj_law_to_halt_b.html
(2) http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/11/nj_assembly_passes_anti-bullyi.html
(3) http://abcnews.go.com/US/rutgers-juror-dharun-ravis-words-convicted/story?id=15922681
(4) http://movies.msn.com/movies/movie-synopsis/bully.4/
(5) http://ideas.time.com/2011/09/06/why-new-jerseys-antibullying-law-should-be-a-model-for-other-states/

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March 31, 2012

Should Genetic Testing Be Required for All Parents and Newborns?

Swedish Dads, Skansen

Swedish Dads, Skansen (Photo credit: ChrisGoldNY)

Under most circumstances (with the possible exception of surrogacy situations), establishing maternity of a child is obvious. Establishing paternity is another matter. But is this uncertainty enough to require genetic testing for all new parents and babies? If, after reading the following, you need assistance from a Hunterdon County lawyer regarding paternity issues, contact the family law attorneys at The Rotolo Law Firm located in New Jersey, Clinton Township.

A New Jersey Assemblyman recently put forward a bill that, if adopted, would require all new parents and their babies to undergo genetic testing to establish parentage. Because maternity is usually easier to prove, the bill, admittedly, is geared more to determining paternity. The thinking behind such a bill is that establishing paternity from the start would alleviate the potential for future court battles and the heartbreak associated with them. (1)

Current New Jersey law essentially presumes the husband is the father of a child born during the marriage, or within 300 days after a marriage is ended by annulment, divorce or death of a spouse. (2) In the case of babies born outside of a marriage, the unwed father should make the effort to establish his paternity. (3) In New Jersey, parents can sign a Certificate of Paternity, which establishes the man named as the legal father of the child. (4)

When a father signs a Certificate of Paternity, it helps to establish the rights and privileges of both father and child, as well as the duties and obligations the father has toward that child. A legal father has the responsibility to provide financially for his child and to meet his child’s health and emotional needs. With these responsibilities come visitation rights and the right to seek custody should the relationship between mother and father terminate. (5)

Establishing paternity is important for the child, as well, as it protects his or her rights to inheritance and other benefits, including medical, Social Security, life insurance and veterans’ benefits. It also provides a child with important information regarding his or her medical history. (5)

For most people, the presumption of paternity is sufficient, at least until the relationship between mother and father sours. In that case, the court may order genetic testing if there are questions regarding paternity before ruling on such matters as child support, visitation and custody.

New Jersey previously considered mandatory genetic testing, but rejected the idea as too costly in terms of money and time, and for being an invasion of privacy. (4) The proposed bill would put the financial burden, at least, on the parents and their insurance providers. (1)

Whether or not such a bill will make it into law is yet to be seen; to date there is no companion bill before the State Senate, so any decision is a long way off. (1) In the meantime, if you or someone you know needs assistance regarding paternity issues in Hunterdon County, contact the family law attorneys at The Rotolo Law Firm.

(1) http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/03/nj_legislator_proposes_measure.html
(2) http://www.dna-testing-paternity.com/paternity-laws/new-jersey-state-paternity-laws
(3) http://family.findlaw.com/paternity/paternity-suit-faqs.html
(4) http://www.lawrev.state.nj.us/children/t9parentageFR041510.pdf
(5) http://www.dna-geneticconnections.com/paternity.html

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February 5, 2012

Where Children Are Concerned, A Name Change Is Not Necessarily A Simple Matter

When a couple divorces, it is easy to understand why some may want to erase all evidence of the failed relationship. That’s one reason behind women reclaiming their maiden names as part of their divorce settlements. But when children are involved, such decisions are not so easy. If, after reading the following, you need assistance with custody-related issues, contact the family law attorneys at The Rotolo Law Firm in Lebanon, N.J.

The New Jersey Appellate Court recently reversed a ruling by a Burlington County Superior Court judge granting a mother permission to change her children’s surname following her divorce from their father. While the couple shares legal custody of their two children, the mother is the parent of primary residence. (1)

The couple divorced in 2010, ending an 11-year marriage. Shortly thereafter, the mother changed the children’s surname to a hyphenated version of her and her ex-husband’s last names without consulting the children’s father. The father filed with the court to have his children’s name changed back. The mother countered with her own petition to change the children’s name to her own. (1)

The procedure for changing the name of a child varies according to the state in which you live. (2) In New Jersey, the procedure for a name change is basically the same for adults and children. A petition must be filed with the court requesting the change and giving a reason for the change. Additional documentation and a hearing may be requested if necessary. Courts primarily are concerned that the change is not being done in an effort to avoid consequences of any legal action pending or for fraudulent purposes. (3)

In the case of a child’s name change, New Jersey requires both parents be involved. If only one parent files for the change, the other parent must be given the opportunity to object if he or she thinks the change would not be in the best interest of the child. (3)

When the above-mentioned case originally was heard, the judge based his ruling on the fact that the mother was the parent of primary residence which, he said, allowed for a presumption in her favor. The Appellate Court, however, said the judge was mistaken because the law upon which the presumption was based did not apply since the couple had been married at the time the children were born. Instead, the Appellate judges ruled, the best-interest test needed to be applied. This test takes into consideration several factors including how long the children had used their surname, how the children identified as a part of a family unit, and any discomfort or embarrassment the children may experience as a result of the name change. (1)

The presumption in favor of a parent of primary residence is mostly used in instances of children born out of wedlock. Even then, though, the Court noted, most states are steering away from this so it does not become an issue in divorce negotiations. It could also be considered discriminatory since parents of primary residence are primarily mothers. (1)

The above-described case illustrates how even relatively simple issues can have complications. If you or someone you know needs assistance with divorce or custody issues, contact the family law attorneys at The Rotolo Law Firm located in Lebanon, N.J., which is in Hunterdon County, New Jersey.

(1) http://www.law.com/jsp/nj/PubArticleNJ.jsp?id=1202539705405&slreturn=1
(2) http://www.essortment.com/change-minor-childs-last-name-24588.html
(3) http://www.lsnjlaw.org/english/courts/formslawsuits/changename/changenamenj/

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January 27, 2012

NJ Supreme Court Win by Rotolo Law Firm Helps Pave Way to Passage of NJ Bill

In an article dated January 5, 2012, Matt Friedman, Statehouse Bureau reported on the Assembly panel approval of a bill that removes the State's two-year statute of limitations for lawsuits for child sexual abuse. Victor Rotolo's 2008 landmark case paved the way for this change. Read Matt Friedman's article here.

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December 28, 2011

Judge Considers Special Circumstances When Granting Custody to Gay Partners

In a complicated case involving same-sex unions and surrogacy, a Hudson County judge recently put controversy aside and decided custody of twin girls based on their best interest. All custody cases carry their own complications. If, after reading the following, you have questions regarding custody issues in Hunterdon County, contact the family lawyers at The Rotolo Law Firm in Lebanon, NJ.

This particular custody case involves Donald Robinson Hollingsworth, Sean Hollingsworth and Donald’s sister, Angelia Robinson. Donald and Sean, partners who were married in California, currently reside in Jersey City. The men, wanting a family, entered into a surrogacy agreement with Donald’s sister, under which she agreed to carry a child – or twins, as it turned out – for the couple. The twin girls were conceived through in vitro fertilization with a donor embryo fertilized by Sean. (1)

Following a complicated birth, the men assumed custody of the twin girls, allowing for visitation with Ms. Robinson. In time, however, the relationship between brother and sister deteriorated, eventually winding up in a lawsuit. In 2009 a judge declared Ms. Robinson the legal mother of the girls even though she had no genetic ties to them. (2)

Disagreements between the men and Ms. Robinson heightened. They failed to agree on child-rearing basics such as schooling, religious beliefs, the girls’ biracial heritage (their biological father was the child of a biracial couple) and the issues of surrogacy and same-sex lifestyles. These major differences of opinion led the Hudson County Superior Court judge to determine that a joint custody arrangement would not work in this situation and instead based his decision on who would provide the best care for the girls. (1)

Sean, who worked part-time from home, was able to devote ample time to raising the girls. Donald ran a successful business. The couple owned homes in Jersey City and Asbury Park. Ms. Robinson lived with her mother in a rental apartment. While the girls were in her care, Ms. Robinson’s mother would watch them while she worked. Both women had expressed anti-gay and anti-surrogacy sentiments. (2)

In making his ruling, the judge expressed concern that the women’s viewpoints would eventually be shared with the girls with damaging effects. However, he recognized Ms. Robinson’s place as legal mother and, while granting full custody to the girls’ biological father, he preserved Ms. Robinson’s visitation rights. (2)

Neither same-sex marriages nor surrogacy contracts are recognized in New Jersey. While the men were married in California, they are considered to be in a civil union in New Jersey. The surrogacy contract entered into by Ms. Robinson and her brother could not be enforced because in New Jersey, as in Michigan, such contracts are considered to be against public policy and void. (3)

Custody issues are rarely black and white. More often there are many gray areas to take into consideration. If you or someone you know is involved in a custody issue in Hunterdon County, consider seeking the advice of the family law attorneys at The Rotolo Law Firm located in Lebanon, NJ, which is approximately ten miles from the county seat in Flemington.

(1) http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/12/nj_gay_couple_fight_for_custod.html

(2) http://www.law.com/jsp/nj/PubArticleNJ.jsp?id=1202535807445

(3) http://www.legalmatch.com/law-library/article/surrogacy-contract-lawyers.html

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November 23, 2011

Holland Township Couple Fights for Custody of Newborn Son

Custody is defined as having the legal responsibility to care for and/or make decisions on behalf of a child under 18. (1) Most consider it a parental right, but there are times when the custody of a child can be threatened and the advice of counsel such as the family lawyers at The Rotolo Law Firm may be warranted.

Various factors can threaten custodial rights. You can be engaged in a custodial battle with an ex-spouse or you can lose custody to authorities as a result of abuse or neglect allegations. Often in divorce, agreements can be reached whereby parents have shared custody or at least visitation rights. Fighting to regain custody from child welfare authorities can be a different story. One Holland Township couple has found themselves engaged in such a battle for the past two years.

The couple, Deborah and Heath Campbell, lost custody of their three children in 2009 and just this week appeared in court once again – this time to fight for custody of their infant son. (2)

The Campbells first made headlines in 2008 when a request for a name on a birthday cake brought them to the attention of New Jersey’s Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). The couple had given their three older children names inspired by Nazis – Adolf Hitler Campbell, JoceyLynn Aryan Nation Campbell and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell. When they asked a supermarket employee to put Adolf Hitler, their son’s name on the birthday cake, the employee refused. Child welfare authorities somehow learned of the incident and began investigating the couple. The investigation led DYFS to remove the children from the couple’s custody, claiming there was evidence of past violence in the household and that the children were in danger of harm. (3)

Just last week, Mrs. Campbell gave birth to another son, whom the couple named Hons. Only hours after the child’s birth, reports stated, child welfare authorities took charge of the child and denied the couple contact with him. (2)

The couple went to court in Flemington this past Monday in an effort to regain custody of the baby, claiming authorities took the infant without a court order. Officials from DYFS have not commented publicly on the matter, but the judge hearing the case denied the couple’s request for custody. The couple’s other three children remain in foster care. (2)

Custody matters can be complicated and agonizing. If you are involved with custody issues in Hunterdon County or a surrounding county, contact The Rotolo Law Firm in Lebanon, NJ.

(1) http://www.womenslaw.org/laws_state_type.php?statelaw_name=Custody&state_code=GE

(2) http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/11/22/8952917-parents-of-adolf-hitler-campbell-lose-custody-of-newborn-hons

(3) http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/11/nj_officials_take_custody_of_b.html

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October 15, 2011

Court: Parental Autonomy Cannot Be Transferred to Third-Party

Sometimes things stand in the way of parents’ ability to raise their children – financial distress, illness, substance abuse - to name a few. When this happens, custody can be turned over to someone else: a grandparent, another relative or any trusted adult that has lived with the child. These people are known as “psychological” parents or de facto parents. If, after reading the following, you need a Hunterdon County lawyer that can assist you with a similar situation regarding parental rights, contact The Rotolo Law Firm, located in Lebanon, NJ, which is in close proximity to Clinton, NJ and Flemington, NJ.

By definition, a psychological parent is an adult with whom a child has bonded regardless of any legal, biological or adoptive relationship. (1) However, although custody of a child can be transferred, parental autonomy cannot, according to a ruling recently upheld by the New Jersey Appellate Division. (2)

Parental autonomy is a fundamental right of natural parents. It allows parents to make all decisions with regard to raising their child without fear of governmental interference as long as those decisions pose no threat to the child’s or the public’s order, safety and welfare. (3)

The court’s ruling came in connection with the case of Tortorice v. Vanartsdalen, involving a grandmother, Lynne Vanartsdalen, who was granted custody of her six-year-old grandson by the child’s natural mother, her daughter. The child basically had lived with Ms. Vanartsdalen all his life since both of his parents reportedly had a problem with substance abuse. In this arrangement, Ms. Vanartsdalen was considered a third-party guardian or psychological parent. (2)

As guardian, Ms. Vanartsdalen honored court-ordered visitation by the child’s natural father and maternal grandfather and step-grandmother, as well as the child’s paternal grandparents. It was when the paternal grandparents sought additional visitation privileges that Ms. Vanartsdalen objected, claiming the additional visitation would undermine her standing as the child’s custodial parent. She argued that Mr. and Mrs. Tortorice would need to prove that denying increased visitation would result in “identifiable harm” to the child. (2)

The court noted that Ms. Vanartsdalen did indeed meet all the criteria of a psychological parent – she was granted custody by her daughter; the child had lived with her most of his life; she assumed parental responsibility; and a bond had been formed between her and her grandson. However, the court ruled, because Ms. Vanartsdalen was not the child’s legal parent – a status reserved for natural or adoptive parents -- the “identifiable harm” standard did not apply. According to the court, while custody can be transferred, parental rights, or autonomy, cannot. (2)

If you or someone you know needs the assistance of an attorney for a child custody or parental rights issue in the State of New Jersey - specifically in Hunterdon County or the surrounding area, please contact the family law attorneys at The Rotolo Law Firm.

(1) http://encyclopedia.adoption.com/entry/psychological-parent/295/1.html

(2) http://www.law.com/jsp/nj/PubArticleNJ.jsp?id=1202517737205

(3) http://definitions.uslegal.com/p/parental-autonomy-doctrine/

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August 21, 2011

The Law Looks Differently at Mothers and Fathers

What defines a parent? For some, parents are the people to whom you are born. Others define parents as those who raise and care for you as you grow. According to Merriam-Webster.com, both definitions are correct, (1) but what about the legal definition of parent? That’s a question the New Jersey Supreme Court recently agreed to review.

The case involves a woman seeking to be identified as the legal mother of a child born to her husband and a surrogate without having to file for adoption. An appeals court previously heard the case and cited the New Jersey Parentage Act, which states that a woman is automatically granted parental rights only to a child she either carries through pregnancy or with whom she shares DNA. In this case, the husband’s sperm was used to fertilize an anonymous donor’s egg which was then implanted into a surrogate mother, leaving the wife no physical tie to the child. (2)

Prior to the child’s birth, a Camden County Superior Court Judge granted the couple’s request to be named as parents on the child’s birth certificate. The surrogate mother relinquished her parental rights three days after giving birth, the time period specified by law. All seemingly went smoothly until the Bureau of Vital Statistics questioned the wife’s parental claim. Since she did not carry the baby in pregnancy nor share DNA with the child, the Bureau claimed she needed to file for adoption as a stepparent before gaining her parental rights. (2)

This view highlights the difference in the way men and women are considered under the law. In the strictest sense of the word, parent legally “refers only to a mother or father who is related to the child by blood.” (3) However, in light of various infertility remedies, men are normally presumed to be the father to any child born to their wives during their marriage, even if the child was conceived through artificial insemination with donor sperm. This contrasts to criteria used to determine a mother’s parental rights. (2)

The Appellate Division explained the Parentage Act is based on “reproductive and biological differences” between men and women and the law affords extra protection for birth mothers. Arguments in favor of the couple in this case, however, point out that the adoption process allows for a period of time in which only one parent is legally responsible for the child. (2)

(1) http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/parent
(2) http://www.law.com/jsp/nj/PubArticleNJ.jsp?id=1202508353619&hubtype=MAIN%20PAGE&slreturn=1&hbxlogin=1
(3) http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Parent+and+Child


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July 24, 2011

Court Rules Parental Rights Cannot Be Terminated by Contract

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled recently that parental rights cannot be terminated merely by a contract entered into by the parties involved, rather parental rights can be terminated only by State law under specific conditions. (1)

This question arose in connection with a case of a single woman who wanted a child and her male friend who agreed to be a sperm donor. Prior to conception, the two entered into a contract whereby the male donor gave up all of his parental rights and responsibilities; the woman assumed complete responsibility for the child. (1)

The birth certificate of the child born from this procedure listed no one as the father. Following the child’s birth, the two individuals involved in the conception signed another consent order confirming that the male surrendered his parental rights and the female retained all responsibility for the child. That order was sent to the court. (2)

The court held that termination of parental rights is controlled by statute, not by personal contracts entered into by individuals. Under New Jersey law, parental rights can be terminated only under certain circumstances, including when a parent is found to be unfit; a child has been removed from a parent’s custody by the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS); or in the case of an adoption. New Jersey law does not provide for the contractual termination of parental rights. (2)

The statute was adopted in an effort to avoid complicating matters between husband, wife and child when that child was conceived by artificial insemination involving an anonymous donor. Normally parental rights are established by the genetic connection between the biological father and child. However, according to the statute, the donor “of semen provided to a licensed physician for use in artificial insemination” is not considered to be the child’s father. As a result, the donor has no rights or responsibilities relating to the child. (3)

In the case in question, no physician was involved in the process. As a result, the court found that the statute does not apply here and the donor’s parental rights cannot be terminated by contract either. However, the court did recognize the difference between the existence of parental rights and the exercise of them. Since the donor in this case had chosen not to exercise his parental rights, the court said it would not impose them. (2)

(1) http://www.law.com/jsp/nj/PubArticleNJ.jsp?id=1202497445086&slreturn=1&hbxlogin=1
(2) http://www.law.com/jsp/nj/PubArticleNJ.jsp?id=1202497624325
(3) http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1246065/understanding_the_legal_aspects_of.html?cat=25


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June 25, 2011

Court: Grandparents’ Rights Not Automatically Terminated in Adoption

In New Jersey when a child is given up for adoption, the rights of the biological parents are terminated at the end of the adoption process. What happens, however, to the rights of the child’s biological grandparents?

Prior to the 1970’s, grandparents had no legal visitation rights. Then divorce rates began to rise and so did the number of single-parent homes. Grandparents began to take a more active role in raising their grandchildren and states began to adopt laws granting grandparental visitation rights. (1)

Today New Jersey law gives grandparents the right to seek visitation with their grandchildren if they are at any time denied such visits by the children’s parents. The grandparents must prove visitation is in the child’s best interest and the court will consider a series of factors when granting this request, including the relationship between the child and the grandparent(s), the relationship between the child’s parents and the grandparents, and the effect the visitation may have on those relationships. (2)

These rights usually come into play in divorce cases. Adoption is a different matter; here, New Jersey adoption laws and grandparent rights can conflict. A recent Bergen County case highlights this conflict.

In this case, paternal grandparents of two children applied to the Bergen County Superior Court for visitation rights after being cut off by the children’s adoptive parents. The judge ruled in favor of the adoptive parents, stating that the State’s adoption laws terminating the rights of the biological parents also pertain to the rights of the biological grandparents. The State Appellate Division disagreed. (3)

The Appellate Court pointed to several factors supporting its decision. First, the adoption laws that originally terminated the relationships between the child and the biological parents and rights of all other persons based on that relationship were repealed in the late 1970’s. The new act eliminates reference to other persons. (3) Second, the lower court’s decision was based on a precedent involving non-relative adoptions. In this case, one of the adoptive parents is the biological mother’s cousin. (3)

Finally, the adoptive parents themselves indicated through their actions that the adoption did not preclude the grandparents’ visitation rights, because they allowed such visits until the grandparents allegedly began to question their parenting methods. (3)

In short, the Appellate Court ruled that in New Jersey termination of the biological parents’ rights does not apply automatically to the rights of the biological grandparents in adoption cases.

(1) http://www.livestrong.com/article/206424-grandparents-rights-in-new-jersey/
(2) http://www.njdivorceonline.com/njpages/Visitation/grandparent_visitation_rights.asp
(3) http://www.law.com/jsp/nj/index.jsp?slreturn=1&hbxlogin=1

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May 28, 2011

Pending Legislation Could End Battle over Rights of Adoptees versus Rights of Birth Parents

The long-running battle that has pitted the rights of adoptees to have access to their birth records against birth parents’ rights to privacy may soon come to an end in New Jersey. A bill ending that battle was approved by the New Jersey State Legislature earlier this month and now awaits signing by Gov. Chris Christie. (1)

The pending legislation would give adoptees in the State the right to access their birth certificates once they turn 18. Parents who have given children up for adoption prior to the law taking effect would have one year from the date the law is adopted to request their names be stricken from the birth records. Once the law is passed -- if it is -- those giving a child up for adoption could submit in writing their desire not to be contacted. (2) Those parents could have their names stricken from birth records as long as they disclose details of their medical and cultural backgrounds. (3)

Currently in New Jersey access to birth certificates in “closed” adoptions is available only by court order. The adoptee must show good cause to the courts in order for their birth certificates to be unsealed. What constitutes “good cause” is up to the discretion of the judge involved with the particular case. (4)

For over 30 years, adoptees have argued their right to have access to information about their origins citing the importance of knowledge of their medical history as a major reason, since many genetic and hereditary medical conditions can be better managed with prior knowledge. Opponents of this law, on the other hand, have argued that the loss of anonymity could cause some birth parents to dismiss the idea of adoption in favor of other alternatives. (1)

Only six other states in the country allow adoptees to access their birth records. Oregon, New Hampshire, Alabama, and Maine all passed laws similar to New Jersey’s pending legislation; birth records were never withheld from adoptees in Kansas and Alaska. (2)

The bill is currently being reviewed by the Governor’s Office. The deadline for receiving the Governor’s signature is June 23. (2)

(1) http://www.newjerseynewsroom.com/state/sponsors-of-nj-adoption-rights-bill-hoping-for-gov-christies-approval
(2) http://yourlife.usatoday.com/parenting-family/adoption/story/2011/05/States-debate-adoption-record-laws/47694156/1?csp=ylf
(3) http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2011/05/10/adoption-rights-bill-moving-closer-to-becoming-law-in-n-j/
(4) http://adopteerights.net/nulliusfilius/?page_id=70

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April 2, 2011

Does New Jersey Need to Update Its Definition of “Mother”?

Imagine availing yourself of all the advancements in reproductive technology in order to conceive the child you thought you may never have just to have the courts say you haven’t earned the title of “Mom.” That is exactly what has happened to a Union County couple now fighting to update State law.

The couple conceived a child through in vitro fertilization, a process whereby the egg is fertilized outside the womb and then implanted into the mother. In this case the egg came from a donor and a surrogate carried the baby to term. As a result, the intended mother has no genetic or biological relationship to the child. (1)

Before the child’s birth 19 months ago, a Superior Court judge issued a pre-birth order permitting the wife’s name to be listed on the birth certificate as the child’s mother. The Bureau of Vital Statistics challenged this ruling and an Appeals Court sided with the Bureau, ruling that the woman would have to adopt the child in order to be recognized as his mother by State courts. (2)

Under State law, husbands are presumed to be fathers whether or not their sperm was used in conception. Wives, however, are not presumed to be mothers unless their eggs or bodies were used for the conception and/or pregnancy. (3)

New Jersey’s current parentage definitions stem from the highly publicized 1986 Baby M case. That child was conceived through artificial insemination, whereby sperm is placed inside the woman and her own egg is fertilized in her own body. Although a surrogate was also involved in that case, the courts recognized the husband as the child’s legal father. State law has not been updated since then, although reproductive technology has been. (2)

Participants in the current case point out some legal ramifications that could arise when the “mother” is not recognized by the courts. For one thing, if something were to happen to the mother before the adoption was finalized, the child would be denied benefits he may otherwise have been entitled to, including insurance and Social Security. If named a beneficiary in his mother’s will, he could also be subject to inheritance taxes which are waived for legally recognized children. (1)

While the couple is seeking to have State laws revised to keep up with changes in reproductive technology, the Appellate Court contends this is a question for the State Legislature, not the courts. (2)

(1) http://www.northjersey.com/news/state/courts/Appeals_court_rules_NJ_woman_must_adopt_baby_born_through_artificial_insemination_of_a_surrogate.html
(2) http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/03/nj_womans_case_exposes_laws_in.html
(3) http://womenofgrace.com/breaking_news/?p=7469

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March 6, 2011

N.J. Court Denies Visitation Rights to Brazilian Grandparents of Tinton Falls Boy

Divorce not only separates the nuclear family – father, mother, child – but it can have ramifications for the extended family as well. The grandparent/grandchild relationship is one that can often suffer from the dissolution of a marriage.

Since the 1970s, a number of states have passed laws recognizing grandparents’ rights in maintaining relationships with their grandchildren. The Grandparents’ Visitation Statute of New Jersey grants grandparents the right to seek visitation with their grandchildren in the State. (1)

In reviewing the grandparents’ application for visitation, courts take several things into consideration, including the grandparents’ relationship with that grandchild as well as with their relationship with their own child. Indications of abuse of any kind – emotional, sexual, physical – or indications of neglect will be weighed heavily by the courts when ruling on the visitation application.(2) Just how heavily such actions are weighed was evident in a recent Monmouth County case.

Last month a Superior Court judge denied a visitation request by the grandparents of a Tinton Falls boy.(3) The child, Sean Goldman, had been the object of an international custody battle that lasted five years. In 2004 Sean was taken by his mother, the late Bruna Bianchi, to her homeland of Brazil for what was to be a short visit. While there, however, Ms. Bianchi filed for divorce from her husband, David Goldman. In 2007 Ms. Bianchi remarried but died shortly thereafter. Her new husband filed in Brazil for custody of Sean, claiming that the child’s biological father had abandoned him. Meanwhile in the U.S., Mr. Goldman had been launching his own legal actions to bring his son back home.

The custody battle between Mr. Goldman and the boy’s stepfather and maternal grandparents won international attention. It took five years and help from some high-ranking U.S. officials before Mr. Goldman was allowed to bring his son back home in 2009.

Since then, Mr. Goldman had agreed to allow his ex-wife’s parents to visit their grandson under certain conditions, one being they drop all legal action in Brazil to regain custody of Sean. That legal action, along with the couple’s past actions to keep Sean from his biological father, weighed heavily in the Superior Court judge’s recent decision regarding the denial of grandparents' visitation.(3) While New Jersey does recognize the rights of grandparents, the statute allows for visitation only when it is in the best interest of the child.(1)

(1) http://www.livestrong.com/article/206424-grandparents-rights-in-new-jersey/

(2) http://www.ehow.com/list_6656730_grandparent_s-rights-new-jersey.html

(3) http://www.newjerseynewsroom.com/state/grandparents-of-sean-goldman-denied-visitation

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February 19, 2011

State Supreme Court Agrees Trial Court Judge Erred in Denying Custodial Parent’s Request to Relocate

A New Jersey statute designed to protect the rights of non-custodial parents and their children and maintain their relationship may have unfairly affected the rights of custodial parents, but case law is changing to address this inequity.

This situation came to light recently in the case of Morgan v. Morgan, a New Jersey couple who divorced in 2005. As part of their divorce settlement, the couple was granted joint legal custody of their two daughters, with the mother being the residential parent and the father having custody every other weekend, and one evening, and one overnight per week. He was also granted two weeks vacation time with the girls each year. (1)

When circumstances in the mother’s life changed and she contemplated relocating with her daughters to her home state of Massachusetts, the father filed a motion to re-determine custody. The mother filed a cross-motion requesting permission to relocate. These motions were filed in November 2005, at which time the trial judge denied the custody motion. A hearing on the relocation issue was held in 2007. This, too, was denied by the judge, who stated the mother’s reasons for relocating were not “valid” and the father’s relationship with his daughters could not be sustained under a new visitation schedule. (1)

Last year, the State Appellate Division reversed the lower court ruling and granted the relocation motion. That decision was upheld by the State Supreme Court just this month. (2)

In its decision, the Supreme Court noted that the State statute regulating the custodial parent’s right to relocate children out of state has the effect of holding the custodial parent hostage while allowing complete freedom of movement to the non-custodial parent. The 2001 case of Baures v. Lewis addressed this inequity and changed the way courts decide relocation motions. From that case came a two-part test, known as the “Baures test,” courts now consider when deciding relocation motions: the parent requesting the move must prove “good faith” reasons for the move and also must show the child will not suffer as a result. That case also determined that a simple change in parenting time is not a good enough reason to deny a motion to move. (3)

Custody issues are complicated matters in which New Jersey courts try to protect the rights and meet needs of all parties involved.

(1) http://www.law.com/jsp/nj/index.jsp

(2) http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions.supreme.A110MorganvMorgain.pdf

(3) http://caselaw.findlaw.com/nj-supreme-court/1245062.html

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February 5, 2011

Halle Berry Involved in Heated Custody Battle Proving Even Amicable Splits Can Turn Sour

When actress Halle Berry and Gabriel Aubry called it quits last April, reports claimed the split was amicable. The couple was even seen enjoying outings together with their young daughter. Now, however, the two are involved in a bitter custody battle. With each flinging accusations aimed at proving the other unfit, these celebrities prove just how contentious the legal battle can become when custody is involved. (1)

There may have been a time when custody was almost always granted to the mother unless she was proven to be emotionally, physically, or mentally unfit. But that was a time of traditional roles, when mothers were the primary caregivers and fathers the primary breadwinners. Today’s familial roles are not so clearly defined. Courts can no longer depend on traditional definitions of “mother” and “father” when deciding custody matters. So what do the courts look for?

New Jersey recognizes the custodial rights of both parents, but also considers the child’s best interest. Courts must determine if both parents can, and are willing to, meet the basic needs of their children, which vary with age. Some issues the courts consider include any domestic violence history; the parents’ fitness; their work responsibilities; their ability to cooperate and communicate regarding their children; and their willingness to allow each other to fulfill their parental responsibilities. (2)

There are two forms of custody acknowledged by State law: legal custody, which pertains to the right to make decisions for the children, and physical custody, or where the children will live. Two forms of legal custody are recognized in New Jersey. Joint legal custody, which is preferred in this State, gives both parents equal say in decisions relating to the children. Sole legal custody gives that right to one parent and is usually awarded only if the other parent is proven unfit to make decisions. (3)

Physical custody has three forms: sole, shared and split. In sole physical custody, the children share a primary residence with one parent, while the other is granted visitation. In shared custody, children spend no more than five, nor less than two, days a week with each parent. Split custody allows one child to primarily live with one parent, while another child lives with the other. (3)

Custody issues, whether parents were legally married or not, can be complicated and are court-enforced to protect both children and the rights of parents.

(1) http://www.nydailynews.com/gossip/2011/01/31/2011-01-31_halle_berry_ready_to_go_to_court_to_fight_for_custody_of_daughter_nahla_with_ex_.html

(2) http://www.childcustodycoach.com/new-jersey/

(3) http://www.ehow.com/facts_6067662_child-custody-laws-new-jersey.html

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January 22, 2011

Are Children Conceived Posthumously Eligible for Survivor Benefits?

Social Security insurance provides survivor benefits for dependent children of deceased workers to help compensate for the loss of financial support. Dependent children are defined as unmarried and under age 18 (19 if still full-time high school students). But are children conceived after the death of a parent eligible for these benefits? According to a U.S. appeals court, they may be. (1)

Karen Capato, a New Jersey mother, filed for and was denied survivor benefits on behalf of her twins who had been conceived in vitro after the death of their father, Robert. Mr. Capato had his sperm frozen before undergoing treatments for cancer in the hopes of producing a sibling for the couple’s other child. Mr. Capato died in March 2002; the twins were born in September of the following year. (2)

According to Social Security regulations, applicants have the right to appeal an agency decision. That process has four levels: reconsideration, hearing, an Appeals Council review and a review by a Federal Court. (3)

When Mrs. Capato’s application for benefits was denied she appealed, but the agency’s decision was upheld by a lower court judge in New Jersey. Earlier this month, a U.S. appeals court in Philadelphia reversed the lower-court judge’s ruling. That court found no doubt the twins were the biological children of Karen and Robert Capato and, as such, may be entitled to Mr. Capato’s Social Security benefits. However, the court ruled that Mrs. Capato must prove the twins were dependents or “deemed to be dependents” of Mr. Capato at the time of his death. (4)

Although a bit unusual, this case is not unique. There are at least four cases in which the Social Security Administration is being sued for survivor benefits for children conceived after the death of their fathers, three of which are pending. (2)

Complicating the Capato case is the issue of residence. Rules regulating dependency under Social Security follow the inheritance laws of the various states. At the time of his death, Mr. Capato was residing in Florida where children conceived after the father’s death are not considered heirs unless expressly named in a will. Mr. Capato died before naming the twins in his will. However, the children were born in New Jersey where the law states they may be considered heirs. The case is now pending review by a U.S. District Court. (2)

(1) http://ssa.gov/pubs/10084.html

(2) http://www.trentonian.com/articles/2011/01/06/news/doc4d26542426cdc169599860.txt

(3) http://ssa.gov/pubs/10041.html

(4) http://www.mycentraljersey.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2011101060331

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November 20, 2010

Over 200 Children Find Their “Forever” Home in New Jersey during National Adoption Month

Some 220 children from New Jersey’s foster program found their "forever" homes this week when their adoptions were finalized in court procedures throughout the State. (1)

November is recognized as National Adoption Month. In celebration of this, counties throughout the State held a series of activities sponsored in a cooperative effort by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the court system. These activities culminated in the finalization of adoptions held during the week of November 15 with the largest number of adoptions taking place in Essex County where the adoption of 60 foster children were finalized. In the Hunterdon/Somerset/Warren County area, six foster children were legally adopted as part of these proceedings. Private adoptions throughout the State were also honored during this observation. (1)

The adoptions in New Jersey included the placement or reunion of siblings within the same adoptive family, special needs placements, teenage adoptions and adoptions by relatives or next of kin, as well as infant adoptions resulting from the State’s Safe Haven Program. Under the Safe Haven Infant Protection Act, individuals are able to anonymously and legally surrender unwanted infants under 30 days old at any police station or hospital emergency room throughout the state. (1)

In New Jersey the DCF’s Division of Youth and Family Services requires potential foster families and adoptive families to participate in the same licensing process. This practice ensures that there are a sufficient and diverse number of foster homes available; these homes can potentially become the permanent adoptive homes of the children placed there. The practice allows the agency to operate under the premise that the child’s first placement is the most appropriate and hopefully final placement. In New Jersey approximately 90% of adopted children are adopted by their foster families. (2)

National Adoption Month was originated as National Adoption Day 11 years ago by the Alliance for Children’s Rights. Organizations such as the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and the Freddie Mac Foundation supported this initiative as a means for raising awareness of children in the nation’s foster care system. Today there are approximately 123,000 children in that system awaiting adoption. (3)

(1) http://www.state.nj.us/dcf/news/press/approved/101112_adoptionday.html

(2) http://www.capemaycountyherald.com/article/government/67879-christie+administration+recognizes+national+adoption+month

(3) http://adoption.about.com/od/celebrationinspiration/a/adoptionday.htm


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November 13, 2010

New Jersey Company Expands Blind Recall Following Death of Toddler

Hanover Direct Inc., a Weehawken, NJ company, has agreed to recall approximately 495,000 roman shades and 28,500 blinds following reports of the accidental death of a 22-month-old toddler from Cedar Falls, IO. Meanwhile, the blind industry is working to develop better standards for manufacturing safer window coverings in an effort to protect children from similar accidents. (1)

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported that the young boy was discovered by his father last May trapped in the cord of a roman shade. The toddler was rushed to the hospital, where he later died. It is estimated that one child dies each month in similar accidents. (1)
The problem is that young children can get tangled easily in the cords used to pull the shades up and down. The CPSC estimated that about 250 young children, including infants, have died from strangulation involving blind cords since 1990,. (2)

Earlier this month, another 22-month-old toddler from Burlington Township was critically injured after getting entangled in a window blind cord. The young girl was discovered by her mother and taken by medevac to Cooper University Hospital in Camden. (3)

Hanover Direct, parent company of Domestications, The Company Store and Company Kids, (1) is one of several companies who voluntarily agreed to recall their blinds and roman shades in 2009 following a March 2008 incident in which a 2-year-old Ocean View, DE, boy became entangled in roman shade cords after climbing on his toy chest to look out the window. Fortunately, that young boy did not sustain permanent injuries from this incident. (2)

At a meeting this month, the chairman of the CPSC addressed consumer advocates and officials from the window covering industry appealing to blind manufacturers to move quickly to approve new safety rules. It is expected that the current safety standards pertaining to roman shades will be used as a model for these new rules and will be expanded to cover other types of blinds. Those standards call for roman shades either to be cordless, or to have cords inaccessible to children, or cords that cannot form a hazardous loop in which a child can become entangled. (1)

(1) http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/11/weehawken_window_shades_compan.html

(2) http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml11/11036.html

(3) http://www.nj.com/mercer/indexssf/2010/11/child_critical_aftter_accident.html

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October 27, 2010

Parents Fight School District’s 24/7 Behavior Policy

Can schools dictate student behavior when classes are not in session? That’s the basis for a court battle between parents and the Haddonfield School District. At issue is the District’s “24/7 Policy” which states underage students caught drinking will be barred from sports and other extra-curricular activities. (1)

The school contends that extracurricular activities are a privilege, not a right, and therefore can be taken away. It also claims students representing the District through sports and other activities can be held to a higher standard. Some parents, on the other hand, argue that the school is overstepping its bounds; monitoring a child’s behavior outside of school is a parental obligation. (2)

Earlier this month, Haddonfield School District won a round when a U.S. District Court refused to oppose the policy. The Court stated there was insufficient proof the policy violated anyone’s rights. As the school pointed out, students do not have to participate in any activities and, if they chose not to, would not be subject to the behavior guidelines. The District now is seeking dismissal of the lawsuit. (1)

The parents involved in the case, however, claim the policy is unfair, particularly to students who have not been convicted, but only charged, with underage drinking. (1)

Haddonfield isn’t the only District struggling with this issue. A similar case occurred in Mountain Lakes where a student was suspended from the girls’ basketball team after attending a party where other underage students allegedly were drinking. The girl’s father fought the school District’s decision. That case was settled out of court. (2)

It’s been reported that about half a dozen school districts in New Jersey have conduct guidelines their students are expected to follow year-round. How serious is the underage drinking problem? A recent study found that the national average age when a person takes a first drink is 14. In New Jersey that age is 12.5 years. (3)

(1) http://www.courierpostonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=201010050344

(2) http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2010-10-11-school-discipline_N.htm

(3) http://www.courierpostonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=201010170314

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October 22, 2010

New Bill Seeks More Training, Parent Involvement for Teen Drivers

A State lawmaker has introduced a new bill that would amend New Jersey’s Graduated Driver’s License program to provide teens with more training and require parental involvement before those teens could obtain their driver’s licenses. (1)

This bill comes in response to a national study conducted by the American Automobile Association (AAA). The study found that almost half of the parents surveyed felt their teens were lacking experience in one area or another, experience that was necessary to be safe, unsupervised drivers. Among the areas cited where teen driving experience was lacking were heavy traffic/ highway conditions and rainy conditions. (2)

Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) sponsored the bill which would increase the amount of training and experience teens receive before getting their licenses and require parents or guardians to accompany their teens to a driver-orientation program specifically designed for teens. (3)

If passed, the bill would bring the following changes:

• Teens under 18 would be required to attend, with their parents or guardians, a teen driver-orientation program approved by the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC). This program would also be available to, but not mandatory for, new drivers between 18 and 21 years of age.

• Drivers under 21 holding a special driving permit would need 50 hours of driving practice, including 10 hours at night, with a guardian, parent or other adult supervisor in addition to the 6 hours of certified driving lessons currently required.

• Drivers with an examination permit of the same age would have a choice between the requirements listed above or 100 hours of certified driving practice, including 20 nighttime hours.

• The 6 hours of certified driving lessons currently required would have to be from private, one-on-one instruction.

• The MVC, along with the Division of Highway Traffic Safety, would be required to update guidelines for driver’s education and traffic safety and make them standard between private and public State schools.

• All new drivers between 16 and 20 would be required to hold a driver’s permit for one year, as opposed to the current six-month period, before receiving their probationary license. (1)

The new bill is hoped to make teen drivers better prepared for unsupervised driving and keep the roadways safer.

(1) http://www.assemblydems.com/Article.asp?ArticleID=3197

(2) http://www.newjerseynewsroom.com/style/bill-mandating-additional-education-practice-for-teen-drivers-introduced-in-assembly

(3) http://www.nj1015.com/pages/8392764.php

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October 16, 2010

U.S. Pressures Japan to Act on International Parental Child Abductions

Child custody issues are difficult enough to resolve, but when parents abduct their children to foreign countries, the matters become even more complicated. Child abductions to Japan by parents or other family members prove to be among the most complicated to resolve.

The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abductions promotes returning abducted children to the country they originally came from, but even with this treaty, resolution of these cases is difficult. (1)

A prime example is the case of Tinton Falls resident David Goldman and his son, Sean. Sean was taken by his mother to Brazil, her home country. While there, she filed for divorce and kept Sean with her. She subsequently died but Sean remained in the custody of his stepfather. Brazil is one of the countries that is party to the Hague Convention and still the legal battle to get Sean back to the U.S. took five years. (2)

Japan remains the only major country that has not signed The Hague Convention treaty. Just recently, the U.S. House of Representatives voted by an overwhelming majority to approve a resolution sponsored by Congressman Christopher Smith (R-NJ) to put pressure on Japan to cooperate with international parental child abductions. (3) Smith was instrumental in helping Goldman retrieve his son from Brazil.

There are currently 95 child abduction cases involving American children taken by a parent or family member to Japan. These cases involve a total 136 children, of which 17 are the offspring of U.S. military personnel. (2)

Jade and Michael Elias are one example. Formerly of Rutherford, NJ, the toddlers were taken in 2008 at the ages of 2 and 1, by their mother, who fled to Japan against court orders which restricted their travel. Their father, Iraq War veteran Sgt. Michael Elias has not seen his children since and Japan has done little to help. (2)

The new bill urges Japan to let all parents involved in these cases see their children and to end these wrongful abduction cases immediately. Recent news reports from Japan indicate that the country is considering signing the treaty, but first wants to resolve its own laws in light of a recent change in the political structure of that country. (3)

(1) http://knowledgebase.findlaw.com/kb/2010/Jul/110545.html
(2) http://chrissmith.house.gov/News/DocumentPrint.aspx?DocumentID=209361
(3) http://bignews.biz/?id=924049&keys=Congressman-Chris-Smith-ChildAbductions

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September 25, 2010

How New Health Care Laws Will Affect New Jersey Families

While the debate continues as to whether or not President Obama’s Health Care Reform Plan is beneficial for the country long term, several provisions of that plan took effect this week and are now enforceable by law.

Two of these changes, effective September 23, pertain specifically to children. No longer can children be denied coverage by an insurance company because of pre-existing health conditions and health coverage for children may continue under their parents’ insurance policies until they reach 26 years of age. (1)

Other changes forbid insurance companies from:

• placing a cap on benefits a person can receive over a lifetime;
• ending coverage for any reason other than the customer committing fraud;
• charging for such preventive services as colonoscopies and mammograms.

The final change that took effect requires mandatory coverage for high-risk pools of people who, in the past, were denied coverage due to pre-existing medical conditions. (1)

How do these changes affect New Jersey residents specifically? Healthcare reform reports from The White House provide a breakdown, which includes the following:

• 5,292,000 New Jersey residents with private insurance will no longer have to worry about their coverage being rescinded or limits being imposed on the amount of benefits or treatment they may receive; (2)

• about 27,800 young adults can continue to be covered under their parents’ policies until the age of 26; (2)

• 1,280,000 Medicare beneficiaries will be eligible for certain benefits, such as free preventive services; (3)

• 109,000 residents could receive rebates as a result of closing the gap in prescription drug coverage under Medicare; and (3)

• 144,000 small businesses could receive tax credits this year. (3)

While the Administration claims the new laws are already “making a difference in the lives of millions of Americans,” opponents are afraid that increasing premiums, greater government involvement and growing debt will have an adverse affect on the country. (1) Time will tell.

(1) http://www.aolnews.com/surge-desk-elections/article/ready-or-not-6-healthcare-changes-that-go-into-effect-on-thursd/19644446

(2) http://www.whitehouse.gov/healthreform

(3) http://www.whitehouse.gov/healthreform/map#healthcare-menu

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September 6, 2010

Safe Haven Law Saves Babies and Parents

This month, New Jersey’s Safe Haven Infant Protection Act celebrates its 10th anniversary. To date, statistics show that at least 47 babies, including one in Hunterdon County, have been surrendered safely under the provisions of this Act. (1)

This law was enacted to help prevent instances like that which occurred in Edison, NJ, this past winter. During a cold February snowstorm, a newborn infant boy was abandoned, wrapped only in a towel, on the hood of a car parked outside of a senior care facility. (2) He was just one of 32 infants abandoned illegally during the ten years that the State’s Safe Haven Law has been in existence. (1)

Fortunately, the Edison baby was discovered and brought to JFK Medical Center, where he was examined and found to be in good condition. Weather conditions on that day, however, could have caused a much different and tragic outcome. Officials estimated that a child left in those conditions probably would not have survived such exposure for more than one hour. (2)

It isn’t only the children that the Law protects. Parents who illegally abandon their babies could face charges of child endangerment, abandonment and worse, depending on the outcome.

New Jersey’s Safe Haven Law protects both child and parent by allowing parents, or someone designated by the parent, to safely surrender unwanted infants up to 30 days old at local police stations or hospitals without prosecution. The Law guarantees anonymity for the person surrendering the infant, except when child neglect or abuse is evident. Otherwise, no questions are asked. Information voluntarily offered by the surrendering parent though, particularly medical information, will be recorded for use in future adoption proceedings. Surrendering parents are also offered information on medical and social services available to them. (1)

Infants surrendered under the Safe Haven Law are turned over to New Jersey’s Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) and placed with pre-adoptive or foster families. Parents have 21 days to reclaim their child should they have a change of heart. After that time, it is assumed that, by voluntarily abandoning the child, the parents have relinquished their parental rights. This satisfies the federal requirement for termination of parental rights proceedings before adoptions can take place. (3)

(1) http://www.nj.com/hunterdon-county-democrat.index.ssf/2010/09/safe_haven_law_saves_47_new_je.html

(2) http://www.mycentraljersey.com/fdcp/?1283561893261

(3) http://www.ncsl.org/IssuesResearch/HumanServices/NCSLnetStateLegislativeReportSafeHavensfor/tabid/16422/Default.aspx

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August 5, 2010

Open Adoption Birth Records One Step Closer to Becoming Law

This fall the New Jersey Assembly is expected to vote on the Adoptee Birthrights Bill, satisfying an issue of adoption that the State has been struggling with for about 30 years.

Under this Bill, adult adoptees or the parents of minor adoptees would be able to get copies of the adoptee’s original birth certificate and to have access to their medical histories and social and cultural backgrounds. Today adoptees in New Jersey can only access their original birth certificates through court order. (1)

Continue reading "Open Adoption Birth Records One Step Closer to Becoming Law" »

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July 14, 2010

Child Support Roundup in New Jersey

Supporting a child is an important role a parent and/or a guardian play in a child’s life be it emotional or moral support and certainly, as any parent can attest, monetary support. However, in the case of a family that is no longer intact, monetary child support often is lacking because of the untimeliness of child support payments. Approximately 38% of child support providers are responsible for medical bills, health care, and various other health care costs of the child so it is important that child support is paid on time. (1)

Unfortunately all too often the non-custodial parent falls behind in child support payments.

Continue reading "Child Support Roundup in New Jersey" »

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March 11, 2010

Mendoza - An International Custody Battle

With everything reaching a global level these days, child custody battles are no exception. Parental child abduction is a growing international problem, often the result of a failed marriage that ends with one parent taking the children to a different country. The problem affects parents in many countries.

The case of Alejandro Mendoza is one such international custody battle. Alejandro Mendoza suspects his five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter may now be in Korea, but he is not sure. Violinist Mendoza teaches during the day and performs at night in the Lion King orchestra on Broadway. Mendoza once played a French violin made in 1902 but had to sell it for something he loves even more -- his children.

Continue reading "Mendoza - An International Custody Battle" »

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June 18, 2009

New Ruling on Child Support Modification

Parties’ daughter was killed in an automobile accident on October 6, 2007. On January 10, 2008, the plaintiff filed a pro se motion seeking, inter alia, to reduce child support. The plaintiff argued that any modification should be retroactive to the date of the daughters death, while the defendant posited that the filing date of the plaintiff’s motion should go

The applicable law is N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.23(a), which basically states that child support can not be made retroactive and will only be permitted from the date of the filing of the motion.

The issue here was whether child support is to be amended on the date of the child’s death or the filing date of the motion. There have been several scenarios where the courts have granted retroactive modification to child support. In the case of Keegan v. Keegan, 326, N.J. Super. 289, 741 A.2d 134 (App. Div. 1999), trial court granted a retroactive increase in the aspect of child support. Halliwell v. Halliwell, 326 N.J. Super. 442, 741 A.2d 638 (App. Div. 1999), dealt with the issue of retroactive modification of an obligor who was incarcerated for an extended period of time

The most analogous case to the one at bar was Mahoney v. Pennell, 285 N.J. Super. 638, 667 A.2d 1119 (App. Div. 1995), dealt with whether retroactive modification was permissible in the event of an emancipated child. The court said, “we cannot ascribe to this legislation, nor do we find any indication that the legislature so intended, to bar termination of child support retroactively to the time a child became emancipated.” Id. at 643.

The court in this case said that upon the death of the parties’ daughter, the duty to pay support for her ceased. To bar retroactive modification would be to punish financially an obligor who has thoughtfully, and in good faith, allowed an appropriate period of grieving and healing to take place before seeking redress in court.

Accordingly, this court found that N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.23(a) does not bar the modification of child support retroactive to the date of death of any of the parties’ children.

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June 12, 2009

Rotolo Law Firm key in New Jersey High Court Enunciating New Test for Tolling Child Sex Abuse Statute of Limitations

Court Enunciates New Test for Tolling Child Sex Abuse Statute of Limitations
By Michael Booth
New Jersey Law Journal
June 11, 2009

The state Supreme Court on Thursday set out a two-stage analysis that trial judges must conduct to decide whether and for how long the two-year statute of limitations in child sexual abuse suits can be tolled.

The formula, which includes objective and subjective elements, will determine whether a Morris County man can pursue a suit, filed in 2004, alleging that his stepfather sexually assaulted him multiple times from 1987 and 1990, when he was between ages 10 to 12.

Superior Judge David Rand dismissed the suit as time-barred, but the Appellate Division reversed, saying the plaintiff did not appreciate that the abuse caused his emotional injuries until undergoing psychotherapy in 2002 and thus that the complaint was filed within two years of accrual of the cause of action.

In Thursday's ruling, R L. v. Voytac, A-61-08, Justice John Wallace Jr. said both lower courts erred. Rand did not conduct a thorough enough inquiry into when the plaintiff should have known that the root of his problems lay with the alleged sexual abuse, which the stepfather, Kenneth Voytac, denies.

And the Appellate Division mistakenly conflated two provisions in the Child Sexual Abuse Act. An action for child sex abuse must be filed within two years after "the reasonable discovery of the injury and its casual relationship to the act of sexual abuse" but the limitations period may be tolled because of the plaintiff's "mental state, duress by the defendant, or any other equitable grounds," the act says.

"We conclude that pursuant to the Act, the trial court must first determine when a reasonable person subjected to childhood abuse would discover that the defendant's conduct caused him or her injury. That is an objective test," wrote Wallace. "If that period is more than two years prior to the filing of the complaint, then the court must next determine whether the statute should be tolled because of 'the mental state, duress by the defendant, or any other equitable grounds.'"

The justices remanded the case for that analysis and said that since Rand made several factual and credibility findings, another judge should handle it.

Voytac's lawyer, William Johnson, says he and is client are pleased with the ruling. "The Court correctly interpreted the act as saying there is an objective standard to be applied when determining when the cause of action accrued," says Johnson, of Dover's Johnson & Johnson. "The Appellate Division had applied a subjective standard."

R.L.'s lawyer, Victor Rotolo, who runs his own firm in Lebanon, says he relishes retrying the case. "I have to go back to the beginning, but that's fine," he says. "The ruling gives plaintiffs a clear roadmap as to what they have to do."


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March 11, 2009

Doctrine of Parental Immunity not a protection from ordinary negligence.

Thorpe v. Wiggan, 405 N.J. Super. 68, (2009).

The doctrine of parental immunity has always protected parents from judicial intervention in normal child rearing decisions. The New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division recently reexamined this doctrine in Thorpe v. Wiggan. This matter involves the tragic death of a four year-old child, Joseph Wiggan, who burned to death while a passenger in a car driven by his father. This is a negligence acting being brought by the child’s mother against defendant for failing to remove his son from the car before the fire started. The plaintiff appealed the order dismissing her complaint, and the appellate court reversed and remanded for a new trial.
There are two versions of the facts. The first was relayed by defendant to a state police detective via telephone. In this version, he was driving on Route 78 when he noticed that his car was emitting smoke. He then heard “2 bangs,” & he smelled the smoke also, so he pulled over into the shoulder. He got out of the vehicle checked around and so the car was full of smoke. His child was in the back seat, but he was unable to get him out. He wound up in the hospital. He got burned.
The second version of the events, the defendant claims he heard the same “2 bangs,” and he believed a tire blew up. The care then “blew up in flames.” He pulled the car to the shoulder, ran into the bushes and rolled to put the fire out that was on him. Plaintiff conceded that she had no claim against defendant for his second version of the events. Plaintiffs only claim lies under the State Police version.

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August 5, 2008

Demystifying the imputation of income.

“[A]ny party is free to retire, take a vow of poverty, write poetry, or hawk roses in an airport, if he or she sees fit. The only limit is discontinuance of the financial aid the former spouse requires. The reason for this is that the duty of self-fulfillment must give way to the pre-existing duty which runs between spouses who have been in a marriage which has failed.” Deegan v. Deegan, 254 N.J. Super. 350, 358-59.

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July 21, 2008

No Binding Arbitration of Custody or Parenting-Time Issues, Court Says

A three-judge Appellate Division panel recently ruled out binding, nonappealable arbitration as a way to settle custody and parenting time disputes. Arbitration is a favored remedy for settling disputes, but parties can’t bargain away the court’s obligation under the principle of parens patriae to ensure the best interests of children, the appeals court said.

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August 17, 2007

New Jersey Parentage

Paternity testing can cost up to $500, not including attorneys fees, should you desire representation.

If the father of your child contests paternity, you should file a Paternity Complaint wherein a hearing will take place and a paternity test will be scheduled. N.J.S.A. 9:17-38 is known as the New Jersey Parentage Act.

There are certain instances where paternity is presumed.

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August 2, 2007

In New Jersey a Child Support Agreement that Deviates from the Guidelines is Superseded by the State when the Payee is a Recipient of TANF

Let's say you and your ex have an agreement, whether verbal or written, that you will pay to your ex $300 in child support, when according to the Guidelines, you should be paying $800. Well, this is obviously agreeable to the payor.

Your obligation will certainly change if your ex becomes a recipient of TANF, i.e. welfare. TANF stands for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.

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July 10, 2007

New Jersey: Termination of Parental Rights

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In a recent New Jersey case, a mother's parental rights were reinstated after the New Jersey State Supreme Court found that DYFS failed to prove the mother was unwilling and unable to eliminate threats of harm (in this case, the presence of the child's father).

The Division of Youth and Family Services, more commonly known as DYFS, files for termination of parental rights. By clear and convincing evidence, DYFS must show the following: (1) the child's safety, health, or development is endangered by the parental relationship; (2) the parent is unwilling or unable to eliminate the harm facing the child; (3) DYFS made reasonable efforts to provide services to help the parent; and (4) termination will not do more harm than good.

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June 21, 2007

Custody – David Hasselhoff

On June 15, 2007, former Baywatch star and singer, David Hasselhoff won full and physical custody of his two teenage daughters, 14 year-old Hayley and 17 year-old Taylor-Ann.

His ex-wife, Pamela Bach, has been granted alternate weekends and on Wednesday nights for dinner.

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June 17, 2007

New Jersey Court Orders Retroactive Increase in Child Support Where Motion was Never Filed

Hamilton v. Mamroud, N.J.Super.A.D. 2007(unpublished opinion).

The parties had one son together. They divorced agreeing to joint custody with mother having primary residence.

Eleven years after the divorce, in November of 2001, the Middlesex County Board of Social Services notified both parties that either could seek a review of child support. The mother notified the board that she was interested in the review.

Thereafter, the father was notified by the Board that it was gathering his financial information from his employer. The board filed a motion to increase support on November 7, 2003, and then again on November 25, 2003 asking the court to make the increase retroactive to November 25, 2001(the date of the original notice).

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May 31, 2007

Battle Over Nearly $630,000.00 in Counsel Fees

Larry Birkhead, the biological father of Dannielynn, is not entirely done fighting. Debra Opri, Esq., Mr. Birkhead's former attorney alleges she was not paid $620,492.84 in fees resulting from her representation of Mr. Birkhead during his custody dispute.

On May 29, 2007, Ms. Opri allegedly filed court documents with the Los Angeles Superior Court for all of her travel expenses, expensive lavish dinners, and even for expenses associated with her husband, whom traveled with her, in addition to her “usual hourly rate” of $475.00 per hour, court filing fees, subpoena costs, deposition costs, accounting and appraisal fees, etc. Ms. Opri stated “legal services entailed hundreds of hours of work”.
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May 18, 2007

Custody Battle – Bobby Brown Sues Whitney Houston

On April 26, 2007, Bobby Brown filed a lawsuit against ex-wife Whitney Houston in an attempt to change the custody terms as to their 14 year-old daughter, Bobbi Kristina. In addition to the shared custody, he is seeking child support and spousal support. A court date has been set for June 15, 2007.

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April 27, 2007

New Jersey Kinship Legal Guardianship

N.J.S.A. 3B:12A-6 Appointment of caregiver as kinship legal guardian New Jersey Courts can appoint a child's caregiver the legal guardian of that child. http://www.lsnj.org/keyRecentDevelopments/KinshipLegalGuardianship2.htm http://www.kidlaw.org/admin.asp?uri=2081&action=15&di=969&ext=pdf&view=yes

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April 14, 2007

Custody - Dannielynn Hope Marshall Stern

A custody hearing was conducted on April 13, 2007 to determine the custody of Anna Nicole Smith and Larry Birkhead’s baby, Dannielynn. The Court had unfortunately adjourned without a decision, and will resume in one week’s time.

Despite this delay, Howard K. Stern reported that Mr. Birkhead is already doing a great job of changing his daughter’s diapers, and the transition of parenthood has already begun.

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April 10, 2007

Paternity of Dannielynn, Official!

The DNA results are in! On April 10, 2007, the paternity of little Dannielynn, daughter of the late Anna Nicole Smith has finally been proven, it’s Larry Birkhead.

Mr. Birkhead emerged from the Bahamian closed-court hearing on April 10th, smiling proudly, pumping his fist, and throwing his hands in the air in expressions of excitement and apparent relief, telling the skeptical world “I told you so!” The March 21 DNA test confirmed what he had already felt in his heart, that he was in fact Dannielynn’s biological father.Larry%20Birkhead.jpg

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March 30, 2007

New Jersey Child Support: Who Pays?

In New Jersey, someone other than a child's biological parent can be responsible for making child support payments.

Specifically, under the doctrine of equitable estoppel, persons who are not the natural parents may have an obligation to support those children as to which they are in loco parentis. Ross v. Ross, 126 N.J.Super 394 (J. & D.R. Ct. 1972).

http://www.childsupportweb.com

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March 14, 2007

Former New Jersey Governor is in a Heated Custody Battle

The Star-Ledger reported yesterday that former New Jersey Governor, James E. McGreevey, who is in the midst of a divorce, has included among his request for relief the sole custody of the parties' five year old daughter, Jacqueline. http://www.nj.com/starledger/stories/index.ssf?/base/news-11/11737647504550.xml&coll=1

The amended complaint seeks child support and provides Dina Matos McGreevey, the mother and soon-to-be ex-spouse, with visitation rights.

Presently, Governor McGreevey lives with his partner, Mark O'Donnell.

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March 2, 2007

New Jersey Visitation: Rights of the Grandparent

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Grandparents will only be given visitation against the wishes of a parent if they can prove by a preponderance of the evidence that such visitation is necessary to avoid harm to the child. Moriarty v. Bradt, 177 N.J. 84, 114-15 (2003).

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February 21, 2007

Custody Battle Continues -- Anna Nicole Smith's Daughter, Dannielynn!

Shortly after the distressing news of Anna Nicole Smith’s demise, the fight for baby Dannielynn continued on a shocking upward spiral. The potential father list has risen from two to five!
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As previously known, Howard K. Stern and Larry Birkhead were the alleged contenders. The paternity test was postponed from January until February 2007.

However, a strange turn of events has since occurred. Two additional men are contending to be Dannielynn’s father; the bodyguard, Alex Denk, and the prince/Zsa Zsa Gabor’s husband, Prince Frederick Von Anhalt. Additionally, Ms. Smith’s sister alleged Ms. Smith had her late 89-year old husband/billionaire oilman, J. Howard Marshall’s sperm frozen, which has been added to the equation.

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January 22, 2007

Custody: What You Should Know Before You Leave New Jersey

As the custodial parent you might think that since the children are under your care and control that as long as you provide them with a warm loving environment it does not matter whether you relocate to another state.

This is not the case. New Jersey law prohibits a custodial parent from moving with the parties' children outside the state without court order or the non-custodial parent's consent.

If the non-custodial parent does not consent to the move, the custodial parent must file a motion asking the Court to relocate. The Court will consider whether the children will suffer from the relocation, whether a relationship will be maintained with the non-custodial parent, and whether regular visitation is possible.

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January 20, 2007

Child Support & Your 401(k)

http://www.childsupportweb.com

Does it sound reasonable for a parent to seek a downward modification of his/her child support obligation when he/she has substantial assets sitting a 401(k) account that are not considered in the child support calculation? What about the child's right to financial support?

retirement%20picture.JPGA party's contribution into a 401(k) account and the income generated in a 401(k) are not used in the child support calculation as it is not considered available to the defendant over an extended period of time. The assets are not ordinarily accessible and the party withdrawing from the account would face an exorbinant tax burden for withdrawing money prior to retirement.
Forrestall v. Forrestall, 389 N.J.Super. 1, 910 A.2d 621 (2006).

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January 20, 2007

Divorce & Custody Battle - Britney Spears & Kevin Federline

In the divorce between Britney Spears and Kevin Federline, Ms. Spears seeks legal and physical custody of their two sons, Sean and Jayden, with visitation rights for Mr. Federline.

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January 18, 2007

New Jersey Emancipation

So, you don't want to pay child support anymore. What do you need to know?
To start, you should ask yourself the following questions:

1-How old is your child?
2-Does your child attend high school?
3- Does your child work? Full-time or Part-time?
4- Does your college attend college?
5- Does he or she reside with your ex-spouse?

The answers to these questions will determine whether you should file a motion for emancipation.

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January 5, 2007

Paternity - Anna Nicole Smith - The Deadline Draws Near

On or before January 23, 2007, the paternity of Dannielynn will be concluded.

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Former Playboy Playmate, TV reality star, and TrimSpa spokesperson, Anna Nicole Smith (born Vickie Lynn Hogan) is disputing the decision and attempting to fight the Court appointed order from U.S. Judge Robert Schnider, that she submit her four (4) month old daughter, Dannielynn to a DNA test to establish paternity.

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December 28, 2006

New Jersey Child Support and Visitation: Is There a Connection?

Let's face it - sometimes non-custodial fathers are delinquent in their child support payments. What is a custodial mother's recourse? Perhaps, the custodial mother can call the probation department or file a motion to enforce litigant's rights. There are many ways to enforce support orders and/or agreements.

May the custodial mother prevent her ex from seeing his children? Quite simply, the answer is 'no'.

Make no mistake about it, a father's refusal to pay child support is frowned upon. However, it is not up to the custodial mother to decide in what manner to best enforce support, especially if the actions affect children. This issue should be handled by the Courts.

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December 26, 2006

Support: Using Interest Earned from Inheritance in Calculation

In New Jersey, inheritance is viewed as separate property and is not subject to equitable distribution irrespective of when the inheritance is received. Nonetheless, inheritance can play a major role in assigning child support and alimony obligations. Keep in mind, inheritance monies should never be intermingled with joint assets. Always keep your inheritance separate from joint assets to avoid it being subject to equitable distribution.

For example, if the payee has stayed home to raise children and tend to the home, she (typically') may not receive all she believes she is owed if she has inheritance monies. The fact that inheritance cannot be divided between the parties, does not prevent the interest earned from investing the inheritance being calculated into support obligations. By this, the payee may actually become a "payor" as well, and be forced to contribute to her support or the support of her children through the interest received on her inheritance.

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December 24, 2006

Support: How New Jersey Treats Underemployment

UNDEREMPLOYMENT

In some circumstances, a party who is obligated to pay alimony and/or child support may change their employment, earn substantially less than before, and seek to have either obligation decreased on the basis of decreased income.

The New Jersey Courts will not overlook this event; it is not a matter of happenstance. In fact, New Jersey Courts may impute income to the payor up to the amount the payor earned at his/her prior employment.

In Mowery, the Court held it is not merely the present earnings of the payor, but the potential earning capacity that is the essence of this factor. Mowery v. Mowery, 38 N.J. Super. 92 102 (App. Div. 1955).

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December 23, 2006

Custody: Changing the Custody Arrangement

More often than not, divorce decrees and settlement agreements are dispositive of physical and legal custody of the children born of the marriage. In most situations, the parties have joint legal custody while one party maintains sole physical custody. The non-custodial parent is awarded parenting-time.

In some situations, the custody agreement which was awarded or agreed to is no longer in the child's best interests. In order to change the custody arrangement in effect, a party must file a motion for modification of custody.

An award of custody is always subject to modification at any time upon a showing of substantial change in circumstance. The primary considerations of the court are the best interests of the child. The court looks to the bona fides of the party seeking modification upon changed circumstances, and will not view a custody agreement entered into by the parties, even in open court, as binding. Sheehan v. Sheehan, 51 N.J.Super. 276 (App. Div. 1958).

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