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Levine v. Bacon

February 24, 1998

ANDREW LEVINE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
ROSEMARY LEVINE BACON, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



Argued January 21, 1998 On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 297 N.J. Super. 224 (1997).

Chief Justice Poritz and Justices Handler, Pollock, O'hern, Garibaldi, Stein, and Coleman join in this Per Curiam opinion.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam

We affirm the Appellate Division's decision that the trial court properly denied the motion of Andrew Levine, the custodial parent of Jessica Levine, to move Jessica to Florida. 297 N.J. Super. 224 (1997). We add only the following observations to the Appellate Division's comprehensive opinion.

I.

Plaintiff, Andrew Levine, and defendant, Rosemary Levine, Bacon were married on March 17, 1988. Jessica, the parties' only child, was born on October 6, 1988. In 1990, Andrew filed for divorce. A Final Judgment of Divorce was entered providing for joint custody of Jessica, with Andrew as the primary residential parent. Rosemary was ordered to pay child support. The judgment also established Rosemary's parenting time schedule, granting Rosemary a combination of weekend and midweek visits, two weeks summer vacation, and alternating holidays.

In 1992, Andrew married Valerie Levine, a psychologist. They live in Princeton. Rosemary married Dylan Bacon in 1994 and they have a daughter Savannah, who was born on August 3, 1993. The Bacons live in South Brunswick. Dylan is employed as the superintendent of an apartment complex where he receives a salary of $17,000 per year, housing for the family of an estimated value of $1000 a month, and health insurance. At the time of the trial, Rosemary was unemployed and an at-home mother for her daughter, Savannah. Since the trial, the Bacons have had another daughter, and Rosemary is now a part-time manicurist.

For thirteen years, Andrew managed a dry cleaning plant owned by his father. In November 1994, his father sold the business. As a condition of that sale, Andrew signed a covenant not to compete. Andrew claims that there was no possibility of continuing his employment with the new owners of the cleaners and that he could not find a dry cleaning plant manager position in those counties not precluded by the covenant.

Clean Pro, a Florida company, offered Andrew a position selling software systems used by dry cleaners. Andrew expects to move into a sales management position eventually, and claims that if he could find a similar position in New Jersey he would stay. Andrew plans to sell his home in New Jersey and buy one near Sarasota, Florida, which is twenty minutes from his parents' and Rosemary's parents' homes.

Andrew asked Rosemary to move her family to Florida, but she refused. Therefore, Andrew proposed an alternative parenting time schedule that includes several week-long visits throughout the year. Andrew also suggested that Rosemary could spend the money that would otherwise go to child support on airfare. Rosemary, however, argues that she cannot afford frequent trips to Florida and that the visitation would be insufficient. Rosemary is in arrears in her child support obligation.

On February 2, 1995, Andrew filed a motion seeking permission to move with Jessica to Florida. The court appointed an expert and the Mercer County Probation Department to do a removal and custody evaluation. After a three-day hearing, the trial court denied Andrew's motion to move with Jessica to Florida. Although the court found that Andrew's reasons for the move were sincere, it concluded that the move would be inimical to Jessica's best interest. The court found that the demands of Rosemary's new family would make it impossible for Rosemary to exercise her parenting time rights under the parenting time schedule, that Rosemary would be unable to afford the cost of the trips to Florida, and that it would not be feasible for Rosemary's family to move to Florida.

The Appellate Division agreed with the trial court that the move would "be inimical to Jessica's best interests and adversely affect defendant's important visitation rights." 297 N.J. Super. at 243. The court noted Jessica's close relationships with defendant, Dylan, Savannah, and her nearby cousins. The court emphasized "he dramatic change in the amount and quality of time that defendant and Jessica would be able to spend together," concluding that it would "undoubtedly cause Jessica to suffer." Id. at 244. Furthermore, the court found that the proposed schedule was not feasible because of defendant's financial constraints and familial obligations. Ibid. The distance between Florida and New Jersey is so great that in light of defendant's limited financial resources and her familial responsibilities, the move would substantially interfere with defendant's relationship with Jessica. Id. at 245-46. Judge Kleiner Dissented, concluding that the case should be remanded because of the trial court's failure "to consider other possible visitation schedules." Id. at 248.

II.

N.J.S.A. 9:2-2 provides that a minor child may not be removed by the custodial parent unless cause is shown. In Cooper v. Cooper, 99 N.J. 42, 56 (1984), the term "cause" was defined to require the custodial parent to show that "there is a real advantage to that parent in the move and that the move is not inimical to the best interests of the children." Also, the Court held that after cause is shown for the move, the court must consider "the prospective advantages of the move in terms of its likely capacity for either maintaining or improving the general quality of life of both the custodial parent and the children;" the motives of both parents; and whether a reasonable parenting time schedule can be arranged. Id. at 56-57.

In Holder v. Polanski, 111 N.J. 344, 352-53 (1988), we modified the requirement set forth in Cooper, supra, 99 N.J. at 56 that a custodial parent establish a real advantage to move, and held that any good faith reason to move will suffice. Also, the court held that a parent may move the children if the move does not interfere with ...


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