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Can a New Jersey Parent Recover Expenses if an Ex-Spouse Does Not Use Their Parenting Time?

father hugging his kids

Custody arrangements in a divorce can be tricky.  A common issue that arises following a divorce is when one parent does not utilize the parenting time they are allotted in a divorce settlement.  Raising a child is expensive, especially if the child has any special needs.  A recent case before the New Jersey Appellate Division dealt with whether a parent can recover parenting expenses when the co-parent does not do their share of child-rearing.  Read on to learn about the case, and contact a skilled New Jersey family law attorney with any questions about child custody arrangements in a New Jersey divorce.

Qian Zhong v. Xue Ye

On August 2, 2018, the Appellate Division issued an opinion in a case called Qian Zhong v. Xue Ye.  The divorced parties shared joint custody over their son, who has special needs due to neurological problems.  After the father moved to China, the mother sued for reimbursement for expenses she incurred as sole parent when the father failed to use his parenting time, as well as other modifications to the custody order.  The expenses included hiring a nurse to help take care of their disabled son. 

The trial court held that a custodial parent cannot recover for expenses when a non-custodial parent fails to utilize visitation time, because settlements already include child support payments which are meant to cover child-raising expenses.  The court relied on a 2006 Appellate Division decision, J.S. v. L.S., a case that denied a father’s right to be reimbursed for child support after he learned he was not the biological father.  The court held that support payments are for the benefit of the child, not the other parent, and the policy reasons underlying the decision are frequently used by New Jersey courts to deny reimbursement of child-rearing expenses to a parent when the non-custodial parent does not take advantage of their visitation rights.

Parenting Time Violation in Special Needs Case

In this case, however, the Appellate Division in Zhong v. Ye reversed the trial court, finding that the policy concerns underlying J.S. v. L.S. were different then here, where the child requires special care and the underlying divorce settlement discussed expenses such as health insurance and nursing at length due to the child’s disability.  The father’s move to China constituted a change in circumstances sufficient to alter the divorce order, especially given the atypical expenses of raising a child with disability.  The court emphasized that the main focus of any decision regarding custody and parenting time must be the “safety, happiness, physical, mental and moral welfare” of the children, which here required reevaluating the custody order.

Contact an Attorney

If you’re in the midst of a conflict with a co-parent and need seasoned legal help in resolving these issues, contact the knowledgeable and dedicated New Jersey family law attorney John B. D’Alessandro for a consultation on your case, in Union at 908-964-0102.

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