Appealing Child Support, Visitation Decisions in New Jersey – Pantagis v. Lantz-Pantagis

Child support and visitation are just some of the issues that regularly come up in New Jersey family law cases. Although many of these issues can often be resolved by agreement between spouses or parents, some must eventually be hammered out by a judge. If you are not satisfied with the Trial Court’s decision, you have the right to appeal it.   You should, however, carefully consider the factors on appeal.  It is a costly and time-consuming process that must make sense to pursue.  As a recent case out of New Jersey’s Superior Court shows Appeal Courts are often highly deferential to a trial judge’s findings about the facts of the case.  Family Court judges have wide discretion.

0453451001617905757.jpgMother and Father divorced in June 2013, following roughly 17 years of marriage. They eventually agreed to share legal custody of their children, with Mother retaining primary physical custody of the kids. Father agreed that his visitation time with the children would be supervised. Five years later, he later went back to court to have the supervision lifted. After hearing testimony from a number of parenting and custody experts, the trial judge sided with Father. The judge found that there was no reason that Father’s time with the children should be supervised.

The trial judge also reduced Father’s monthly support payments. He had been paying Mother more than $600 per month in child support based on the original Order; however, the Trial Court found that Father should have been responsible for about $200 less a month based on child support guidelines that are used to set support levels. The Court felt there was a prior mistake in the child support figure.  As a result, the court also credited Father for the over payments.

 The Superior Court Appellate Division affirmed the decision on appeal. In so doing, the court explained just how much deference appeals courts give to trial judges in fashioning child custody, visitation, and related decisions. Although that deference doesn’t extend to a trial court’s legal conclusions, it does cover the fact findings that a judge makes based on the evidence in the record. “A reviewing court should uphold the factual findings undergirding the trial court’s decision if they are supported by adequate, substantial and credible evidence on the record,” the Court said. “Appellate review of parenting time decisions is accorded great weight on appeal.” Here, the Court said there was no reason to overturn the trial judge’s rulings on visitation and child support as it was based on substantial evidence.

As this case makes clear, a person appealing a family law decision in New Jersey often faces an uphill battle.  The Appellate Division will only overturn a Trial Court decision if it finds judicial error or an abuse of discretion.  That’s why it is vital that a person considering a divorce or grappling with a related legal issue seeks the counsel and advice of a seasoned family law attorney.

The New Jersey family lawyers at Helfand & Associates have more than 100 years of combined experience representing clients in a wide range of divorce, child custody, and support cases. Our lawyers work diligently to ease the stress on clients in what can be a trying process by building the strongest possible cases for the people that we represent.  Tanya Helfand is a Certified Matrimonial Attorney in the State of New Jersey

Our offices are conveniently located in Whippany and New York City. We are happy to offer clients a free half-hour consultation in family law and other cases. Contact us online, call our New Jersey office at (973) 428-0800, or call our New York City office at (646) 213-9053 to set up an appointment with one of our attorneys.