Craft v Bugbee
In Craft v. Bugbee a couple with two teenaged children negotiated an agreement concerning their parenting time with the children as part of their divorce.(PTA). The agreement allowed the mother to move to California with the children but it provided that New Jersey would retain jurisdiction over all custody and parenting time issues that would arise in the future. The father continued to reside in New Jersey.
In the years since they signed the agreement, the mother filed numerous motions to try to undo this specific provision of the parenting agreement, but the courts always denied her applications.
Two years ago, the mother filed another motion, again arguing that the New Jersey court should decline jurisdiction on the ground that it is an inconvenient forum jurisdiction and that jurisdiction should be moved to California as a more appropriate forum.” Her motion was denied.
This jurisdiction issue, the trial judge said, was “specifically contemplated” when the parties negotiated the agreement. The father’s consent to the mother’s relocation with his sons to the other side of the country was contingent upon the inclusion of this provision. In denying the mother’s motion, the judge used the standards established under New Jersey’s Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), N.J.S.A. 2A:34-71.
Again, in September 2014, the mother made the same motion (she was certainly persistent!). The same judge came stuck to his prior ruling. He expressed concern that if he disregarded the agreement they had made, this may be the beginning of a slippery slope – future divorcing litigants might “merely feign agreement at the outset, with the intention of later returning to court to challenge its validity.”
The New Jersey Appellate Division upheld the Family Part judge’s ruling. The lesson to be learned is that when you make a deal, expect the courts to enforce it, absent a showing that enforcement was not in the childrens’ best interests.