Although I have been a New Jersey divorce attorney for nearly 2 decades, I have never forgotten my humble beginnings. After I had trouble finding work upon graduating New York Law School, I decided to give myself a job. Being a “rookie.” I had much to learn about the law, running a law practice, how to market myself and the list goes on and on.
Now, even as a young New Jersey divorce lawyer in the mid-1990s, I understood that preparation was essential. Before any appearance in the Family Part of the Superior Court of New Jersey, I knew the facts of my case and all applicable law. About a year into my career, the unexpected happened; I knew the law better than the judge. Please allow me to explain.
My case involved 2 divorced parents who had one child together, an eight year old little girl. The mother had primary residential custody and the parents enjoyed joint legal custody. However, now the mother wanted to relocate to Florida with the minor child and my client hired me to either prevent the move or to maximize his time with his daughter throughout the year, both in New Jersey and Florida.
After the “relocation” hearing, it was time for closing arguments and I went first. I “opened my close” with what I deemed to be an easy issue; joint legal custody. The Judge (who was brand new to the bench and had no previous New Jersey family law experience) surprised the court room when she politely interrupted me stating, “Mr. Weinstein, if I decide to allow this child to be relocated to Florida, we cannot have joint legal custody when the parents live so far away from one another, now can we?”
I was shocked. As I recently wrote, “In a New Jersey Divorce, What Does Joint Legal Custody Exactly Mean?” a vast majority of cases a resolved in joint legal custody and an award of sole custody is extremely rare. Essentially, joint legal custody amounts to the parents being truly “equal” with respect to major decisions regarding the child. Therefore, I vigorously argued and requested that the Judge reconsider her position. Specifically, I took the position that it was totally practical and feasible for the parents to enjoy joint legal custody notwithstanding any geographical distance. The telephone (cell phones were still scare, nobody was texting and email was still a new concept … I just felt really old there for a moment) would suffice for communications regarding the child.
The Judge gave me a look, excused herself, left the bench and went into chambers. As a young lawyer, my head was starting to spin. “I really thought I had this one.” I then recall my adversary, who was a veteran New Jersey divorce attorney herself, came up to me (off the record obviously) and said, “Ed, you are correct and the Judge is wrong. Suddenly the Judge came back onto the bench, reversed herself and stated that joint legal custody would be appropriate. I breathed a sigh of relief and continued on.
While I appreciate you taking the time to learn about my humble beginnings, the moral of this story is quite important. If you are facing a dispute in a New Jersey divorce court, be sure to have a New Jersey family lawyer who concentrates in the field of New Jersey divorce law representing you and your children. In this case, if I did not know the law regarding joint legal custody, the judge may have a made a grave mistake that would have detrimentally affected his relationship with his daughter for potentially the rest of their lives. Thank you.