Custody dispute case gives temporary child custody to the state

A recent Ocean County NJ court case has brought to light some very interesting legal issues regarding child custody, and how child custody may affect professional services a child would receive.  More specifically, for divorced parents with joint legal custody, who gets to make the ultimate decision about the child’s medical care?  If the two parties cannot agree on a treatment or the best course of action to take regarding their child’s health, who gets to decide?

Background of the Case

The case in question involved a 16-year-old who had suffered a sport-related injury to his arm.  The child was primarily living with his father, who took his son to several medical appointments regarding his injury.  Following the advice of the doctor, the father arranged for his son to undergo surgery on his arm and elbow.  Reportedly, the mother was not consulted with before the surgery was scheduled, and upon learning of the impending operation, objected to the surgery and asked that the matter be taken to a court.

The initial surgery was canceled, and the mother was then given the opportunity to take her son to a doctor of her own choosing, to hear a second opinion.  Unfortunately this did not lead to any clarity as the mother then insisted that the surgery be performed, but with the doctor of her choosing and not that of the father’s.  Of course, the father insisted that the surgery be performed by the doctor he himself had chosen.

Even though both surgeons were clearly competent, and were recommending only slightly different procedures, the parents continued to disagree over the matter with no clear way of resolving it.  The father then proceeded to file an emergency application to be granted full legal custody on the grounds the the mother was delaying the child’s medical treatment, and thereby harming him.

The Judge Intervenes

It fell to Judge Lawrence Jones of the Superior Court of Ocean County to try and make some sense of this dispute.  He asked that both surgeons call him by telephone in order to explain their differences in approach, and alleviate concerns both parents had raised.  The judge determined that neither approach was discernibly better or worse, not enough so that an immediate decision could be made regarding the child’s medical treatment.

That being said, the judge also noted that the dispute over the child’s medical treatment was negatively impacting the child’s health owing to the fact that the surgery was considered necessary, and time-sensitive.  The fact that the child’s health was at stake, and being negatively impacted by the behavior of his parents, as well as the wording of New Jersey custody law, allowed the Judge to enact a somewhat obscure legal power known as “parens patriae”.

Parens patriae refers to the public policy power of the state to intervene in the case of abusive or negligent parents, and to act as the parent of the child who needs protection.  Using Parens patriae, the judge wrote a temporary custody order for the child, granting the father legal authority over the child’s immediate medical needs as it related to the arm and elbow injury, but leaving the previously existing joint custody agreement otherwise intact.

Judge’s Notes and Implications of the Ruling

Judge Jones had much to say about his ruling, and spent a great deal of time discussing how important it is that parents be able to work together regarding their child’s future after a divorce.  He observed that there could be great risk to children of divorced parents.  If professionals like doctors, teachers, coaches and tutors frequently find themselves in the middle of legal battles, as the doctors in this case did, it might become common for these professionals to avoid working with children with divorced parents.  They will want to avoid becoming involved in an embattled custody arrangement, and will simply walk away from the child.  

Additionally the judge warned that if the parents in this case could not find a way to cooperate regarding the wellbeing of their child, they face losing custody of their child altogether, not just temporarily as they did in this case.

The judge clearly wished to send a message to not only these parents, but divorced parents with children across the state.  You need to find a way to discuss your child’s future and compromise without involving the court, if you are unable to do so you risk losing the ability to do so.

How to Contact a Morris County Family Law Attorney

The attorneys of The Montanari Law Group provide support and guidance to divorcing parents facing child custody and parenting time issues. Utilizing our considerable experience and resources, we work tirelessly to develop workable solutions that best serve the needs of your children and family. Our divorce attorneys have assisted countless clients in Little Falls, Wayne, Clifton, and throughout Passaic and Essex counties to arrive at favorable child custody configurations. We understand that each case is unique, requiring a specific approach that is informed by the circumstances, priorities, and needs of the individuals involved. As such, we will take the time to learn as much as we can about your situation and work with you to devise the best strategy for you and your family. To discuss your case with a member of our seasoned family law team today, contact our Little Falls offices at 973-233-4396 or toll-free at 888-877-7985 for a free initial consultation.


To speak with one of our highly knowledgeable attorneys, contact us today at (973)-233-4396 or toll-free at (888)-877-7985. You can also complete the form below to begin your conversation. We are a personalized, boutique-style law firm that offers free initial consultations and flexible appointment options.