When you and your spouse decide to separate, it's an emotionally charged process. You not only have to work through the details of your own separation or divorce, but you must also make important decisions about how to raise your children. Child custody matters in New Jersey can quickly become contentious; it can drain you emotionally, mentally, and psychologically, preventing you from making the most reasonable choices for your kids.
If you have the right legal support for your child custody matter, it's much easier to keep things civil. After all, both you and your partner want what's best for your kids, and having a New Jersey child custody attorney can help you reach the ideal solution. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Family Law Team can help with your family law matters in Monmouth County, NJ.
What Is Child Custody in Monmouth County, NJ?
Child custody is an agreement stating how a child is raised and cared for between two parents. It usually concerns parents who are no longer living together and are no longer in a relationship. The child custody process in New Jersey has two main goals:
- Determine who the child should live with
- Determine who has the right to make decisions about the child's upbringing, such as religion, schooling, medical care, and other important matters.
The New Jersey child custody laws are primarily found in the Title 9 statutes, and they explain child custody and the role of the courts in detail.
Child Custody vs Child Support
Many people use the terms “child custody” and “child support” interchangeably. They are not the same thing, however. Child custody refers to the legal agreement stating who a child lives with and how they're raised.
Child support, on the other hand, is an agreement concerning the child's financial support. Usually, the parent who does not have primary custody must contribute financially to the child's upbringing. It's important not to confuse these two terms.
Grandparents' Custody Rights in Monmouth County, NJ
In some cases, grandparents can win custody rights, but it's rare. It's more common for grandparents to get what is known as “visitation rights.” With visitation rights, a grandparent can spend time with a child and be part of their life. It doesn't make them responsible for the child's upbringing.
To get visitation rights, grandparents must petition the courts. The grandparent will have to show that visitation is in the child's best interests.
Types of Custody in NJ
In New Jersey and most states, there are two types of custody: physical custody and legal custody. When the courts review your custody case, they will make a decision about each one.
Physical custody refers to who the child will live with. This parent provides the child with daily, routine care. Physical custody is in effect until the child turns 18.
Legal custody refers to the responsibility for making big decisions in a child's life. New Jersey statutes don't explicitly state what these decisions are, but typical examples include:
- Where the child receives an education
- Where and how the child receives medical care
- Whether the child participates in organized religion
- Extracurricular activities or clubs the child joins
Joint vs Sole Custody
Joint custody is when both parents share physical or legal custody of a child. Sole custody is when only one parent has custody.
- Joint physical custody means the child spends a significant amount of time living with each parent. Both parents must provide daily routine and necessary care for the child.
- Joint legal custody means that both parents share the responsibility for making big decisions about the child's life. Parents typically have to consult with each other before deciding where to send the child to school, if they participate in organized religion and other important matters.
Keep in mind that joint custody doesn't always mean a 50/50 split. While the courts' stance is to have both parents involved in the child's life as much as possible, a 50/50 custody split isn't always the best option for some families. The court will look at your situation as parents and care providers and ultimately award custody based on what's in the best interest of the child.
With sole custody, only one parent is responsible for the child:
- Sole physical custody means the child lives with one parent all of the time. It doesn't mean the other parent never gets to see the child, though. Unless the other parent has a history of abuse or neglect, they typically get visitation rights.
- Sole legal custodymeans only one parent has the authority to make important life decisions for the child. If you want sole legal custody over your child, you'll have to prove your former partner is irresponsible, abusive, or unfit to make those kinds of decisions.
Types of Custody Orders in NJ
In New Jersey, the type of custody order refers mostly to the time period the order is in effect. The three types are emergency, temporary, and final.
- Emergency custody orders usually only last a few days. They're issued when there's an urgent need for one parent to take custody, such as in cases of abuse or neglect. They might also be issued if one parent is at risk of fleeing the state with the child.
- Temporary custody orders are issued while the custody process is ongoing. They last until the final custody order is issued. Most of the time, one parent gets temporary sole custody while the other gets visitation rights.
- Final custody orders last until the child turns 18 or the parents come up with an alternative arrangement. This order is the final one issued by the courts after you and the other parent have agreed on a custody arrangement—or after a custody hearing if your case goes to court. Although this order is “final,” it can still be amended or modified by submitting a court petition.
Can Children Choose Which Parent to Live With in NJ?
In New Jersey, children are considered minors until they turn 18. Up until this time, they cannot have a legal, definitive say in which parent they live with. Nonetheless, the courts still take the child's opinion into account when deciding the final custody arrangement.
Older children tend to be given more consideration than younger children in the custody process. A judge will listen to a younger child's opinion but will ultimately prioritize other factors when deciding custody. Older children, such as teenagers, have a bit more emotional maturity and are usually better able to express a true preference.
Will Siblings Be Placed Together?
Whenever possible, the Monmouth County courts try to place two siblings together when deciding custody. The New Jersey Department of Children and Families published a Child Welfare Outcomes report in 2017 that suggested that placing siblings together offers a more supportive and stable environment for children.
Since the report was issued, the courts have recognized that the preferable custody arrangement for siblings is putting them with the same parent.
How the Courts Determine Which Parent Gets Child Custody
The Monmouth County Family Court uses several factors to determine the best interests of a child and which parent should have custody. The court is not allowed to give one parent preferential treatment and cannot make assumptions about who the child lives with. The process must be as objective as possible, based on the evidence provided by each party.
The courts tend to favor a 50/50 split for custody arrangements when possible. The idea is that children should have strong, loving relationships with both parents. The 50/50 arrangement isn't possible for all families, however. The courts recognize this and will make a determination based on New Jersey statutes.
Factors the Court Considers in NJ Child Custody Cases
The court considers several factors when deciding custody cases and must always decide based on what's in the child's best interest.
Generally, the court considers:
- History of abuse of both parties (if they have one)
- History of domestic violence in the relationship, if any
- The child's preference if they are old enough
- Mental or psychological concerns
- History of drug or alcohol problems, if any
- Criminal history such as sex offender or domestic violence convictions, if any
- The ability of each party to provide a safe and stable environment
Two things that almost always prevent a parent from getting custody are being a convicted sex offender or having a domestic violence conviction.
Monmouth County, NJ Child Custody Process
The Monmouth County Family Division is responsible for child custody cases. It also hears matters related to divorce, parenting time, child support, etc. Monmouth County and the New Jersey Legislature are committed to encouraging contact between minor children and their parents on a regular basis, even while the custody process is ongoing. In child custody cases, the goal is always to act in the best interest of the child.
The process goes through five steps—or less, depending on how quickly you and the other parent are able to work out an arrangement.
Step 1: Filing for Custody
To start the custody process in New Jersey, one parent must file for custody in the Monmouth County Family Division. If there's an emergency and you feel you need immediate custody of your child to keep them out of danger, you can ask a judge to issue an emergency custody order on the same day.
Another way to start the custody process is through divorce proceedings. You can request custody as part of your divorce complaint.
Step 2: Devising a Parenting Plan
After the initial complaint is filed, you and the other parent will be asked to create a parenting plan. This written plan outlines both of your sets of parental responsibilities. You should include details about when the child will stay with you, visitation schedules, and arrangements for the child's school vacations and holidays.
Once you're done drawing up the parenting plan—which you can do with the help of a family law attorney—it must be reviewed by a judge. The judge will usually agree to it unless it's clearly not in the child's best interest.
If you can both agree to your parenting plan and the judge approves it, the custody process ends, and a final order is issued.
Step 3: Mediation
If you cannot come to an agreement concerning the parenting plan, you and the other parent may have to move to the next phase, which is mediation. Both of you are expected to participate unless there is a domestic violence issue. The court will conduct a custody evaluation to determine what's in the child's best interest.
Step 4: Hearing
If the mediation doesn't yield an agreement, the next step is a formal hearing. Both of you will present your case and provide evidence before a judge. The judge will make a decision based on what they see and hear at the formal hearing.
Step 5: Appeals
If either you or the other party doesn't agree with the judge's decision at the formal hearing, you can submit an appeal. It requires filing a motion with the Family Court. An experienced family law attorney at the Lento Law Firm can help you with filing the appeal motion.
Do You Need an Attorney for a Child Custody Matter?
Having an attorney is not required to file for child custody, but it's highly recommended. An attorney can:
- Help you deal with the complex court process, file your paperwork on time, and ensure you understand the legal process
- Explain the pros and cons of any parenting plan or agreement to help you make an informed decision.
- Represent you in court and help you prepare an evidence-based argument if your case goes to a formal hearing.
The Lento Law Firm Team has helped families across New Jersey and Monmouth County, and we can help your family too.
NJ Child Custody Lawyer
Dealing with child custody orders can lead to uncertainty, confusion, and emotional turmoil. Having an experienced attorney by your side can help you navigate this difficult process. Joseph D. Lento and his Family Law Team understand these challenges and can work to find the best solution for you and your family. We'll carefully evaluate your case and provide guidance at every step. Contact us online or call us at 888-535-3686 to book a consultation.