The NY/NJ Bombing Suspect Loses Custody Rights, But Child Keeps Name

Board Certified Family Law Specialist Matt Arnold answers the question: “What are my custody rights if the other parent moves?”


At long last, Maria Mena has won in her quest for full custody of the child she had with New York and New Jersey bombing suspect Ahmed Rahami when they were teenagers.

Empty streets Charlotte Divorce LawyerHowever, the judge denied Mena’s emergency request to change the child’s last name so that it was different from Rahami’s.

Before making the top of the country’s terrorist watch list, Rahami had violated a restraining order to not have contact with Mena and was behind on his child support payments to the tune of nearly $7,000.

The tipping point, however, came when Mena filed another request to change the existing shared custody order after the bombing incidents, citing Rahami’s potential terrorist activities as the basis for her petition. The court granted Mena temporary sole physical and legal custody of the child, convinced that continued shared custody posed a threat of irreparable harm to the minor. Mena told the court she was worried Rahami would try to indoctrinate their child with his views on radical Islam, and feared that he would try to kidnap the child from her.

Mena and Rahami reportedly dated in high school and had the child when they were teenagers. Despite the prior shared custody order, Mena told the court hearing her petition that she had not met with Rahami physically for some time or spoken to him since this January.

Rahami is reportedly still hospitalized in New Jersey after being injured in a shootout with police on September 19. Federal law enforcement indicated that he was still in no condition for a first appearance in court. He has been charged with both state and federal crimes, including bombing of a public place, use of weapons of mass destruction, and attempted murder of a law enforcement officer.

The judge’s custody decision is no shock to many, given the allegations and evidence against Rahami. In addition, a brief examination of the law makes the name change denial no more surprising.

State laws typically require that a nonconsenting parent at least receive notice of a petition to change a minor child’s name. In New Jersey, there is a presumption in favor of the primary caregiver’s choice of last name over the other parent’s objection when the child is born out of wedlock.

The New Jersey presumption is stronger than in many states where the consent of both parents is usually required. In North Carolina, for example, a child’s last name can be changed only if the noncustodial parent has abandoned the child or been convicted of (not just charged with) certain child abuse, sex offense or violent crimes.

The precise reason why the family court judge denied Mena’s emergency request for changing her child’s name is unclear, although presumably it was because Rahami could not adequately receive notice of the petition or object while in federal custody at the hospital. As of the time of this blog post, Rahami still reportedly had not even been appointed a federal public defender to represent him on his criminal charges. New Jersey follows the ubiquitous “best interests of the child” standard in family law matters involving minor children, but the judge apparently ascertained that sharing a last name with Rahami did not subject the child to irreparable harm for the time being.

If you find yourself facing a complicated family law matter, then you need the help of experienced family-law attorneys in Charlotte, North Carolina who can help guide you through the often confusing process of divorce. Please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.


About the Author

ARNOLD & SMITH LAWMatthew Arnold is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of family law, divorce, child custody, child support, alimony and equitable distribution.

Mr. Arnold was raised in Charlotte, where he graduated from Providence Senior High School. He attended Belmont Abbey College, where he graduated cum laude, before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full academic scholarship.

A certified Family-Law Specialist, Mr. Arnold is admitted to practice in all state and administrative courts in North Carolina, before the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, and before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

In his free time, Mr. Arnold enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife and three children.






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