New Jersey Judge to Dad: Rock and Roll is Here to Stay!
One of the most “entertaining” family law matters to take place in New Jersey in the last year involves a young girl, a pop concert, and a judge who loves rock and roll! In the recent matter of Zoe v. Zoe, the divorcing parents were in a continuing custody dispute. In late December of 2013, […]
One of the most “entertaining” family law matters to take place in New Jersey in the last year involves a young girl, a pop concert, and a judge who loves rock and roll!
In the recent matter of Zoe v. Zoe, the divorcing parents were in a continuing custody dispute. In late December of 2013, Mrs. Zoe took the parties’ eleven year old daughter to a P!nk concert as an early Christmas present. The daughter is an avid P!nk fan and was “dying” to see the singer in concert. After the request was made, Mrs. Zoe looked into the singer in question, including listening to lyrics and watching live performances on Youtube. She found that not only were the performances, overall, age-appropriate, but that they contained a significant amount of gymnastics and aerial aerobics, activities that also interested the parties’ daughter. Mrs. Zoe and her daughter attended the concert together.
At the concert, there were many other parents and children enjoying the show and, a small child was even invited to sing with P!ink at one point. Mrs. Zoe notes that her only reservation about the experience was that it was a school night, even though they returned home before midnight. She further notes that the concert experience, which was a first for her daughter, was a wonderful experience for both she and her daughter.
Mr. Zoe, upon finding out about his daughter’s attendance at the concert, filed suit on the basis that Mrs. Zoe had abused her parental discretion and made an age-inappropriate decision by taking A.Z. to the show. He states that, had he been at the show, he would have removed his daughter from the arena and taken her home. He states that the music contains some profanity and that the choreography and costumes are sexually suggestive in nature.
The issue before the court was whether the child’s attendance at the concert was an inappropriate exercise of parental discretion and could the same be a relevant factor in the ongoing custody dispute. The court’s answer to both parts of the question was no.
The Court stated that parents may exerciser reasonable parental discretion in introducing and exposing the child to works and performances of the creative arts, which includes rock music—a highly recognized form of creative artistic expression in the United States and world-wide. “Appreciation of music, art, drama, literature and other creative expression are all significant enough to be included in the curriculum of virtually every public school in our nation. A parent’s ability to expand a child’s artistic horizons through experiences both in the home and community is tremendously important and highly worthy of legal and social respect. Parent/child trips to concerts, theatres, cinemas, museums, libraries, may only provide not only intellectual and social stimulation, but in some instances, may greatly foster emotional bonding and bridge-building between generations of the same household, while creating vivid lifetime memories as well.”
To further illustrate the point, the Court noted that at one time in New Jersey, certain municipalities banned rock concerts and reminded the Plaintiff that at one time, Elvis Presley was considered controversial and his dancing obscene and that the Rolling Stones and other acts in the 1960s were banned or to be banned and largely considered “detrimental to minors”.
The Court then went on to laud P!nk as a performer, noting that she is “presently one of the most well-known and honored rock artists in the United States and world”, having won multiple awards and accolades. The Court further notes that contrary to the belief that the lyrics are inappropriate, P!nk’s lyrics are empowering, relatable to young people, inspirational, and the messages “inherently valuable to teens and pre-teens.” The Court also found that the choreography was not “obscene” but rather the dancers were “highly trained, skilled, and professional”.
The Court noted that the concert was a “culturally exciting experience” and “involved over ten thousand other attendees from multiple backgrounds and walks of life, including other children, all coming together in one venue for an evening of singing, dancing, and positive entertainment.” The Court then lauded Mrs. Zoe for attending with her daughter and taking the time to enjoy a parent/child night out together, sharing the experience and bonding (“a young girl went to her first rock concert with her mother and had a really great time”), which the Court notes that is not as common in this day and age. Therefore, the Court held that not only was the decision to attend appropriate, but that it will not result in any negative inferences against her in the custody litigation.
With this decision, the Court sent an important message to divorcing parents; the “good works” and “bonding activities” of one parent cannot be challenged by the other parent when the “good works” and “bonding activities” are objected to merely because of differing parenting styles; parental decisions will generally be upheld unless the objecting parent can demonstrate a lack of parental discretion and/or potential harm to the child. This is a powerful clarification and reinforcement of the Children’s Bill of Rights and our law’s attempts to shield children of divorce from parents who, for whatever reason, lose sight of what really matters in custody and parenting time matters; i.e., the best interests of the children!