“Exceptional Circumstances” lead to Grandparents gaining sole custody of child

Posted on January 11th, 2017

Robert H. Siegel, Esq., recently won a major victory in the Monmouth County Superior Court, Family Division, where the trial court awarded Ansell Grimm & Aaron PC clients – the paternal grandparents of a ten-year-old – sole legal custody of a minor child after a two-day trial that commenced in late August 2016.

The child’s biological mother, residing in New York State, petitioned the court for custody of the child immediately after the child’s biological father transferred custody to the paternal grandparents. The lengthy trial tested the parameters of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decisions in Watkins v. Nelson, 163 N.J. 235 (2000) and V.C. v. M.J.B., 163 N.J. 200 (2000), as well as the New Jersey Appellate Division’s decision in Zack v. Fiebert, 235 N.J. Super. 424 (App. Div. 1989). The trial court explicitly referenced each of those precedential decisions in its oral ruling, which was placed on the record on January 9, 2017.

The trial court held that the paternal grandparents had met their burden of demonstrating the requisite “exceptional circumstances” to show that they had “stepped into the shoes” of the child’s parents, and were thus “in parity with the natural parent.” Having met each prong of the psychological parent standard, the trial court weighed the best interests of the child, and found that the paternal grandparents should continue to raise the child in New Jersey until she reaches the age of majority.

The ultimate impact of this case may be felt by its potential to encourage more far-reaching requests in grandparent custody cases, as the majority of grandparent-related family court decisions have been restricted to providing grandparents with limited parenting time rather than custody.

For questions concerning family law matters, including custody, support, and enforcement issues, please contact Robert H. Siegel, Esq. by email at rhs@ansellgrimm.com or by phone at (732) 922-1000.