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Do Stepparents Have Any Rights to Stepchildren?

Stepparents have no legal rights to a stepchild, both in terms of physical custody and the right to make important decisions about the child’s health and schooling. Likewise, a stepparent normally cannot seek custody of a stepchild over the child’s legal parent in a divorce proceeding, except in rare cases, such as those cases involving child abuse by the legal parent. While the court’s preference is for a child to be in the custody of a legal parent or relative, the court can consider the stepparent as a custodian for the child if neither legal parent is available or able to care for the child, and the stepparent has established a close parental relationship with the child.

New Jersey law does permit third parties, such as grandparents, to receive visitation with or even custody of a child. The same logic also applies to stepparents. K.A.F. v. D.L.M., 437 N.J. Super. 123 (App. Div. 2014). Keep in mind, however, that the legal standard necessary for awarding custody to a stepparent or any third party is higher than the “best interest of the child” standard that the court must use in child custody cases. In order to gain custodial rights, a stepparent must prove that terminating his or her relationship with the child is akin to that of a parent and the absence of same would cause harm to the child. V.C. v. M.J.B., 748 A.2d 539, 163 N.J. 200 (2000).

A stepparent has no specific obligation to financially provide for a stepchild. Child support calculations for the child do not take the stepparent’s income or financial situation into account. The only exception to this situation would be if the stepparent adopts the stepchild. In the event of an adoption, the stepparent would become a legal parent of the child, with all of the same rights and responsibilities as a natural parent, meaning that the stepparent either could have custody of the child or be ordered to pay child support for the child.

The bottom line is that unless a stepparent is able to get a court order awarding him or her custody of a child or adopt the child, the stepparent’s rights to the child are extremely limited. No matter what kind of family-related issues may be involved in your legal matter, however, our New Jersey family law attorneys can guide you through every step of the proceedings necessary to resolving your case. We are here to answer all of your questions about your case and present your potential options. At Argentino Family Law & Advocacy, LLC, we have represented the interests of countless families and children throughout many different types of legal proceeding. Contact our office today at (973) 868-0958 or by e-mail at info@argentinolaw.com and set up a time to talk with us about your case.

What Documents Should I Bring to an Initial Case Assessment?

For an individual who has little or no experience with the legal system, facing a legal problem can be intimidating, stressful, and even frightening, particularly when it involves your family. Here at Argentino Family Law & Child Advocacy, LLC, we understand how difficult your situation can be, so our first step is always to schedule an initial case assessment with you in order to get the basic facts about your legal matter. We want to make you as comfortable as possible when dealing with a legal situation that quickly can become overwhelming. Once you schedule your initial case assessment with our office, you should take a few steps to prepare for your assessment by gathering any important documents that your lawyer needs to see. While every case is different and may involve various issues, there are some common documents that generally are helpful to initially assessing your case.

Financial documents about your assets, income, and debts often are a crucial part of being able to properly assess your case from a legal perspective. For example, in a case involving divorce or the dissolution of a legal relationship, you will need to divide assets and debts. In a child support, divorce, custody, or parentage case, you will need to provide certain financial information for the purposes of calculating child support. Relevant financial documents might include income tax returns, real estate appraisals, mortgage documents, credit card statements, recent paycheck stubs, daycare receipts, documentation of health insurance costs, and other similar documents.

Likewise, if your legal case involves allegations of domestic violence, child abuse, bullying, sexual abuse, you want us to have as much information as possible about these issues. Relevant documents to bring to your initial assessment could include police reports, counseling records, medical records, criminal history records, emails or text messages, and school records. While you may not be able to gather all of the necessary documents, we can give you a much better assessment of your case if we have all of the facts in front of us.

These are a just a few examples of the type of documents that you should bring to your initial case assessment. We understand that no two families are the same, and as a result, we take a unique, individualized approach to every case that we handle. No matter what issues arise in your legal proceedings, we are here to help. The lawyers at Argentino Family Law & Child Advocacy, LLC, have handled countless family law, divorce, and other cases involving children, and we have the experience that you need. Contact our experienced team of attorneys today so that we can address your concerns and answer any questions that you might have about your case and how it will impact your family. It is our goal to ensure that you are able to have the knowledge that is necessary to make the best decisions for you and your family.

Grandparent Visitation

Grandparents or siblings of a child residing in New Jersey have a statutory right to file an application with the Court seeking visitation under N.J.S.A. 9:2-7.1.  The statute has been in effect since 1971, with amendments made in 1987 and 1993.  The statute states, in part, that the applicant has the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that granting the requested visitation is in the best interests of the child.  The statute enumerates eight (8) factors for the court to consider in deciding a grandparent’s or sibling’s visitation application.  Additionally, the statute indicates that an applicant’s history as a full-time caretaker for the child will serve as prime facie evidence that visitation is in the child’s best interest.

In 2000, the Supreme Court of the United States decided the case of Troxel v. Granville, and invalidated a grandparent visitation statute in the State of Washington on the grounds that it infringed on fit parents’ constitutional right to rear their children.  530 U.S. 57 (2000).  In 2003, the New Jersey Supreme Court analyzed New Jersey’s grandparent visitation statute in the case of Moriarty v. Bradt, in light of the Troxel decision.  177 N.J. 84 (2003).  In Moriarty, the court opined that “interference with parental autonomy will be tolerated only to avoid harm to the health or welfare of the child.” Moriarty at 115.  The court found that the preponderance of evidence burden in the statute, coupled with the avoidance of harm standard, fully protected parents’ fundamental right to raise their child as they see fit.  As such, the court decided that the State’s grandparent visitation statute did not violate a parent’s constitutional rights to family privacy and autonomy.  The 1993 statute remains in effect to this day.

At Argentino Family Law & Child Advocacy, LLC, we know how important your family is to you, and we want to do everything we can to help you through the legal situation that you are currently facing. We are here to listen to your concerns, explain the law and the legal process to you, and present all of your options. Together, we can work toward the goals and make the decisions that are right for you and your family. Contact our office today by phone at (973) 868-0958 or via email at info@argentinolaw.com.

Child Support for Disabled Children over the age of 19

On February 1, 2017, N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.67 went into effect. The statute codified marriage, military service and death as emancipation events warranting a termination of child support as a matter of law. The statute also mandated that child support orders monitored through the Probation Department would automatically terminate upon a child reaching the age of 19.  The Probation Department sends out 2 “Notices of Proposed Child Support Obligation Termination” form prior to the child’s 19th birthday.  A separate form, titled “Request for Continuation of Support” must be completed by the receiving parent and returned to Probation no later than 45 days prior to the child’s 19th birthday.  The form must include a proposed date of termination of support which may not extend beyond the child’s 23rd birthday, as well as proof of the child’s full-time enrollment in school or proof that the child has a disability that existed prior to their 19th birthday.

With respect to disabled children, the parent receiving support must provide proof to the Probation Department that the child suffers from a physical, mental, or intellectual disability as adjudicated by a Federal or State agency, that the disability existed prior to the child attaining the age of 19, and that the disability renders the child in need of continued support.  In that case, the parent receiving support may request that Probation monitor support until the child reaches the age of 23.  In order for support to continue with judicial monitoring beyond the child’s 23rd birthday, the receiving parent must make an application to the Probate Court for a guardian to be appointed to monitor and disburse “financial maintenance.”  The Court has not defined “financial maintenance” in this context nor is there a mathematical formula such as the child support guidelines.  However, in cases where the child support guidelines are not appropriate, the Court addresses the factors in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(a); specifically:

  • Needs of the child;
  • Standard of living and economic circumstances of each parent;
  • All sources of income and assets of each parent;
  • Earning ability of each parent, including educational background, training, employment skills, work experience, custodial responsibility for children including the cost of providing child care and the length of time and cost of each parent to obtain training or experience for appropriate employment;
  • Need and capacity of the child for education, including higher education;
  • Age and health of the child and each parent;
  • Income, assets and earning ability of the child;
  • Responsibility of the parents for the court-ordered support of others
  • Reasonable debts and liabilities of each child and parent; and
  • Any other factors the court may deem relevant.

In light of the new statute being in its infancy, and lack of case law on the matter, the above statutory factors are the best guide for practitioners and litigants to approach the question of determining financial maintenance for a disabled child over the age of 23.

At Argentino Family Law & Child Advocacy, LLC, we know how important your family is to you, and we want to do everything we can to help you through the legal situation that you are currently facing. We are here to listen to your concerns, explain the law and the legal process to you, and present all of your options. Together, we can work toward the goals and make the decisions that are right for you and your family. Contact our office today by phone at (973) 868-0958 or via email at info@argentinolaw.com.

Termination of Child Support – Generally

Parents are obligated to pay child support until such time as their children become emancipated. New Jersey Courts will deem a child emancipated when it finds that the child has moved beyond their parents’ sphere of influence. Dolce v. Dolce, 383 N.J. Super. 11, 17-18 (App. Div. 2006).  Although eighteen is the age of majority, a child who reaches that age is not automatically emancipated. Filippone v. Lee, 304 N.J. Super. 301, 308 (App. Div. 1997)

Common emancipation events include the child’s marriage, entry in the military, death, graduation from high school without continuing their education, or graduation from vocational training or college. Parents often specify these emancipation events in marital settlement agreements and custody agreements. Parents often disagree on whether a child is emancipated in the context of the child’s voluntary extended absence from college. Until recently, such an impasse often resulted in the parent paying child support filing a motion with the court to terminate their obligation.

On February 1, 2017, N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.67 went into effect. The statute codified marriage, military service and death as emancipation events warranting a termination of child support as a matter of law. The statute also mandated that child support orders monitored through the Probation Department would automatically terminate upon a child reaching the age of 19.  The Probation Department sends out 2 “Notices of Proposed Child Support Obligation Termination” form prior to the child’s 19th birthday.  A separate form, titled “Request for Continuation of Support” must be completed by the receiving parent and returned to Probation no later than 45 days prior to the child’s 19th birthday.  The form must include a proposed date of termination of support which may not extend beyond the child’s 23rd birthday, as well as proof of the child’s full-time enrollment in school or proof that the child has a disability that existed prior to their 19th birthday.  Cases involving disabled children over the age of 23 are governed by a separate legal standard and separate judicial department.

As such, the events that trigger a child’s emancipation (as well as the exceptions) have not changed. However, the initial burden is now on the parent receiving support to prove that the child is still in need of support.

At Argentino Family Law & Child Advocacy, LLC, we know how important your family is to you, and we want to do everything we can to help you through the legal situation that you are currently facing. We are here to listen to your concerns, explain the law and the legal process to you, and present all of your options. Together, we can work toward the goals and make the decisions that are right for you and your family. Contact our office today by phone at (973) 868-0958 or via email at info@argentinolaw.com.