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Ex-wife of Bergen police officer can’t move daughter, 8, to Atlanta, NJ court rules

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ONLY ON CVP: A local Bergen County police officer’s job makes it impossible for him to spend an adequate amount of time with his daughter if his divorced wife relocates with her to Atlanta, a state court ruled this past week, in prohibiting the move.

Such a move would be against the best interests of the now-10-year-old girl, the New Jersey Appellate Division found in upholding a May 2013 decision by a famly court judge in Hackensack.

The couple was married a decade ago. They divorced a couple of years ago and share custody of their daughter and a son, now 22, who live with their mother in what once was their parents’ house in Bergen County, the appeals court decision says.

The ex-wife said she must take a position with her employer in Atlanta because the salary from a part-time job with the company and the nearly $50,000 she gets in annual alimony and child support “are insufficient to properly raise the children, given the high cost of living in Bergen County,” the decision says.

Their home has been foreclosed on, she added.

Although the officer’s 3-to-11 p.m. work shifts “severely limit the time he can spend with (his daughter), he has undertaken efforts to remain active in her life,” the decision says.

He serves on her school’s PTA, gets time off from work to watch her participate in sports and other activities and take her to the mall, the zoo, pools and theaters, and makes “impromptu breakfast, lunch, or dinner dates with (her) when he is available.”

He also bought his daughter a cellphone “so the two can communicate by phone, text, Skype, and video-chat.”

Because he lives in a one-bedroom apartment, the officer spends “significant amounts of time” with his daughter at his mother’s and sister’s homes, the decision issued Friday says. The girl, in turn, has become “extremely close” with her cousins.

By contrast, the girl’s mother doesn’t have extended family in New Jersey. Her mother and a daughter from another marriage live out of state, the appeals court ruling says.

The ex-wife testified that she is “very unhappy” living in New Jersey because “she can’t afford it here.”

The headquarters of her company is in Atlanta and has “four times the number of employees, more departments, and more job opportunities, including flex-time and work-from-home positions” than her current at her current assignment in New York City, the decision says.

The ex-husband, in turn, contended that she only makes $4,000 a year and could take a job with the same company closer to home — allowing her to work more hours while spending $554 less a month for commuting.

The ex-wife “flatly refuses to consider a transfer” to the company’s New Jersey location because “it is not a happy place,” “they’re rude,” and she would not be able to take time off as needed to “be there for (her daughter),” the Appellate Division decision says.

The mother argued that she doesn’t take extra hours at the current job because of “great flexibility” that “allows her to spend more time” with the youngster.

She also agreed that her ex-husband is a good father and that their daughter needs his approval “for healthy growth,” and complimented his “work ethic, parenting, communication and general efforts,” the ruling says.

A child psychologist found that the girl “enjoys the time she spends with her father and his family, understands that moving will decrease the frequency with which she sees her dad and his family, is confident they will continue to have a good relationship, and does not appear stressed or discomfited over adjusting to the changes.”

On the flip side, her father’s familiy submitted letters to the family court judge “about how enmeshed (the girl) is in the extended family’s life, how much time they spend together, and all the efforts (the father) makes to keep (her) in his and the family’s lives.”

Because the girl is a New Jersey native, her mother needs court approval to relocate to another state. The law does this to “to preserve the postdivorce relationship of the child and non-custodial parent,” the appeals judges noted.

They higher court supported the findings of the family court judge in Hackensack that such a move “considerably places the parties’ child in a position where she will be deprived of strong family unit and support system in order to move to Georgia where she has no immediate family and no more attractive opportunities.”

The appeals judges also noted that the mother showed “only a slight difference in the cost of living” between Bergen County and Atlanta.

Although she claimed that being a single mother limited her options, the family court judge cited letters from the ex-husband’s family “expressing their willingness to assist with childcare,” they wrote.

A “liberal visitation schedule” could help her work more hours, the local judge added. What’s more, the mother couldn’t prove that schools in Georgia are better than those in New Jersey, the appeals court found.

Given what the Bergen County municipal police officer does for a living — and the fact that he must work weekends — “relocation and the proposed visitation schedule are not feasible due to distance, time, and financial restraints,” the higher court judges ruled.

The ex-wife’s proposed visitation schedule “is only effective in the event that the defendant use all of his vacation and leave time and incur extra costs in purchasing, not only his own airfare, but alternating plane tickets for (the daughter),” their decision says.

Relocating would also harm the girl’s relationship with her father’s family — in particular, her cousins, it says.

“[W]hile moving to Georgia from New Jersey may not distress the (mother’s) notion of family it will have a great effect on (the girl’s) life,” the appeals judges wrote in affirming the lower court’s findings.

“The judge’s conclusion that the potential benefits of the move are not substantial enough to jeopardize (the girl’s)relationship with both her parents and extended family finds ample support in the record and is consistent with the applicable principles of relocation law,” their decision says.

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