Child Custody Decisions in New Jersey

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 What is Child Custody?

According to the New Jersey Courts, in child custody, the rights of both parents are considered. In general, minor children must have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated. Parents are encouraged to share the rights and responsibilities of caring for their children.

Child custody is the right and duty to care for a minor child on a day-to-day basis and to make major decisions about the child. Custody can translate to taking care of the child and the ability to make decisions or just one aspect. Below are some of the custody arrangements commonly used:

  • Joint Legal Custody: Encourages co-parenting and shared access to information;
  • Sole Legal Custody: All major decisions are made by one parent;
  • Primary Residential Custody: The child lives with one parent at least 51% of the time; and
  • Shared Residential Custody: The child resides with each parent equally.

Furthermore, parenting time is the time that a non-custodial parent spends with a child when the other parent has sole legal custody. Supervised parenting time implies that the visits are supervised by a third person. The court can appoint a member of the family or another
person to supervise. Moreover, a grandparent or any sibling of a child residing in New Jersey can file in court to request visitation. The filer must prove that visitation is in the best interest of the child.

What are the Different Types of Custody Arrangements?

In any issue over custody of children, both parents have equal rights to seek custody. If you are divorcing the other parent and you do not agree about where your child should live, a court will step in to decide custody in your divorce proceeding. If you are not married to the other parent, one of you can file a custody action in family court to resolve any custody disputes. A judge must decide what custody arrangement is in the child’s best interests.

Typically, there are two aspects of custody: legal custody and physical custody. The parent with legal custody is responsible for making critical decisions about the child, such as where the child can attend school and what kind of medical care the child should receive. The parent that was granted physical custody is the parent the child lives with most of the time. This parent is known as the custodial parent and the other parent is named the non-custodial parent. Additionally, parents can share physical and/or legal custody jointly.

Furthermore, custody arrangements can vary depending on the needs of the children and the relationship of the parents. The court does not need to make the same decision for physical and legal custody. Most of the time the parties have joint legal custody, but one party has primary physical custody.

Moreover, custody mediation is when there is an argument about custody of children in a court action, the court will refer the parties to mediation to see if a court mediator can resolve the issue. Keep in mind that if you and your spouse have a history of domestic violence, the judge cannot send you to mediation.

Additionally, there are court Investigations. In these situations, the court can request the probation division or other court staff to conduct an investigation of the parties and their homes and file a report with the court. Below is a brief description of the various custody arrangements:

  • Joint physical custody: The child resides with each parent for similar amounts of time during the year. In this situation, both parents have day-to-day responsibility for the child;
  • Sole physical custody: The child lives most of the time with one parent. The other parent will have a schedule to visit with the child;
  • Joint legal custody: Both parents are involved in making important decisions about the child’s education, medical care, and similar issues. Both have access to the child’s school and medical records and;
  • Sole legal custody: One parent is responsible for making important decisions about the child.

How do Courts Make Decisions on Child Custody in New Jersey?

According to the Legal Services of New Jersey, custody decisions are based on the child’s best interests. The court will examine several factors, including:

  • The parent’s ability to agree, communicate, and cooperate;
  • The child’s relationship with the parents and siblings;
  • Any history of domestic violence;
  • The child’s safety, needs, and preference;
  • Each parent’s ability to take care of the child;
  • The child’s education;
  • The amount of time each parent has spent with the child;
  • The parents’ employment responsibilities;
  • The age of the child and number of children and;
  • Any other factors the court finds useful.

Custody decisions can be changed by the court if the parties’ circumstances shift. The party who desires to change custody will need to file a motion with the court requesting to modify the custody order. That party will have to demonstrate that the parties’ situation has altered for the court to consider the motion. If circumstances have changed, the court will need to decide what custody arrangement is in the child’s best interests now.

The non-custodial parent will have scheduled visits or parenting time with the child. Visits will only be restricted if the court believes that the non-custodial parent will harm the child. In that case, the court may order that the non-custodial parent have only supervised visitation with the children.

In extreme situations, the court might terminate the visits altogether until circumstances shift. Decisions about visitation depend on what is best for the child. Additionally, visitation can be altered if the parties’ circumstances change.

Moreover, if the parents could reach an agreement on the terms of custody and visitation they can create a meaningful agreement. The more specific the terms of your agreement, the better and easier it will be to enforce. If you and the other parent cannot agree, then it will be up to the courts to decide the issues of child custody and visitation, generally, at the time it is holding the hearing about your divorce.

Furthermore, the compelling factor utilized by the courts is what is considered to be in the best interest of the child. The deciding factors will vary with the facts of each case, but the courts will examine what is in the best interest of the child. Specifically, the court will consider evidence relating to the child’s needs and each parent’s ability to meet those needs and will grant custody accordingly.

Regardless of which parent has primary custody, children are generally best served when their child has continuous meaningful contact with both parents. There is no automatic preference for either mothers or fathers. The court will closely determine which parent will best promote the welfare of the child.

What Happens at the Custody Hearing?

The American Bar Association describes what occurs at the Custody Hearing. This will vary on the facts of your case and your child’s age and maturity level, as well as state law. Judges may communicate to the child in the judge’s chambers rather than in open court.

In some jurisdictions, but not all, the mother’s and father’s lawyers have a right to be present during the interview. In some circumstances, the judge may appoint a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker, to communicate with the child and report to the court.

When Do I Need to Contact A Lawyer?

If you reside in New Jersey and need assistance with a child custody case, it is recommended to seek out a local New Jersey child custody attorney in your area to guide you in the process.

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