Family Law Case Study: Sometimes We Need a Consent Order

The practice of family law is deeply rewarding.  I get to impact the lives of families in crisis and sometimes make positive changes in children’s lives.  Below is a story of how good lawyering and preparedness allowed me to reach an agreement with my adversary.  It’s an example of how, by coming to an agreement, I was able to get my client more than he probably would have gotten in court:

Knowing when to agree is one of the essential skills of good lawyering.   Many think that because family law issues are so personal, their issue cannot be solved except in Court.  However, there are circumstances, such as in a child relocation out-of-state against a non-custodial parent’s wishes, where even the Court will probably not act absent agreement between the parties. 

In the late evening in October, a new client called us wanting help relocating his two children to a non-New-Jersey-bordering state.  He had this great opportunity to work out of state, but he would not go without his children. The mother of his children, the non-custodial parent, would oppose any relocation.   

I told the client that relocating children against a parent's wishes would be a difficult sell to any New Jersey judge.  However, having negotiated a price, I agreed to make an appearance on the motion he had already filed.

Knowing the law, I visited my new client and performed a through fact investigation.  I =remained skeptical of my client's ultimate ability to relocate because the law, N.J.S.A. § 9:2-2, plainly states that relocation is not allowed without a trial or the consent of both parents.  After reading the case law, I still believed my client would need a Consent Order to relocate with his child, because in New Jersey, there are twelve factors that play into a court's relocation decision, and my client only could meet a few.   

Somehow, I needed the child’s mother to agree to the relocation.  I needed to prepare a Consent Order and go to the hearing.  Checking in at the appearance, I approached my adversary with a fair Consent Order, and politely asked her to read it.   I then spoke with the court's case management team and mentioned that I prepared what I believed to be a fair settlement.   Interested, the clerk disappeared with the document, and I spent some time speaking to my client.

After several minutes passage and from nowhere, a court mediator appeared and wanted to speak to both parties, ushering us into a settlement conference room.  The mediator wanted to know, off the record of course, if it would be possible that a Consent Order could be signed based on the agreement I had proposed.  The Court saw my agreement was fair, and wanted us off its docket. 

A few tense minutes passed, we are able to break the ice, and I am able to earn the mother’s trust.  She has seen that I wrote a fair Consent Order to start off with, and she can tell I am being fair with her.   

Unbelievably, the mother eventually agreed to sign.  In a whirlwind of events, the judge finalized the Order, after what is called voire dire, and a child has been relocated starting immediately.  As a result, my client's life is changed forever. 

This result would not have been possible without preparedness, knowledge of the law, and skilled negotiation.  By the end of this interaction, I had leveraged the law to effectively represent my client, but I had also earned my adversary's trust, which trust made settlement a possibility.  Ultimately, being a lawyer should be a results driven business.  I didn't try this case.  I didn't drive up attorney's fees.  But I did solved my client's issue.  Sometimes agreement is the only way.

Matthew J. Rosen, Esq., - Attorney and Mediator at Hammerman Rosen LLP