In a recently unreported decision, Negron v. Benitez, the Appellate Division held that a party’s motion for reconsideration of a consent order modifying custody and parenting time was appropriately denied by the trial court. In reaching its decision, the Appellate Division found, among other things, that there was no change in circumstances warranting a disturbance of the consent order executed just four months before the motion to amend it. Unfortunately, buyer’s remorse is common in many aspects of family law.
In the Negron case, the appellant was represented by capable counsel when entering the consent order that drastically modified custody and parenting time. Four months later, the appellant regretted signing the consent order and sought reconsideration of it. A prior custody order, “whether reached by consent or adjudication, embodies a best interest’s determination.” (Todd v. Sheridan, 268 N.J. Super. 387, 398 (App. Div. 1993)). With that determination having been made in a prior custody order, a party seeking to modify the order “must bear the threshold burden of showing changed circumstances which would affect the welfare of the child.” Ibid.
The person attempting to modify a final order, whether related to economic issues or child custody, bears the burden of establishing a substantial change in circumstances. Satisfying the burden of proving a substantial change in circumstances is not an easy task. This applies whether the order is entered by a judge or reflects an agreement between parties.
So, if you are signing an agreement or entering a consent order this holiday season, assume that it is there for the duration. Because the cost, time, and likelihood of trying to undo its terms are burdensome.