Child Custody in Union County

The process of settling child custody is often the most emotionally charged and stressful aspect of a divorce or separation. It's natural for parents to want the best for their children, but achieving that can be challenging, particularly during emotionally fraught times or contentious separations.

In Union County, NJ, the preferred option in deciding child custody is for parents to come to a mutually agreeable arrangement. However, if they fail to do so, the family court has to intervene to determine what is in the child's best interests. The judge's ruling may not necessarily align with your expectations as a parent, especially in the absence of competent legal representation. You could even potentially lose custody rights you expected to retain.

To say the stakes are high would be an understatement. That's why hiring an experienced family law attorney in Union County is a critical step to increase your chances of a favorable outcome. The Lento Law Firm Family Law Team brings years of experience in negotiating child custody agreements in Union County. Contact us online or at (888) 535-3686 to schedule a consultation.

Child Custody Laws in New Jersey

New Jersey's child custody laws offer a comprehensive framework outlining the court's authority regarding custody, parental rights, forfeiture policies, custody orders, and associated matters. The paramount consideration for the court in all custody disputes is to render decisions that prioritize the best interests of the child while ensuring clarity, fairness, and justice.

Types of Child Custody in New Jersey

Determining child custody in New Jersey involves making decisions regarding both physical custody and legal custody.

  • Physical custody pertains to the child's living conditions and daily care. The parent awarded physical custody is responsible for the child's day-to-day needs until the child reaches 18 years of age.
  • Legal custody grants the parent the authority to make significant decisions concerning the child's upbringing, such as education, healthcare, religious background, etc.

Joint or Sole Custody

Both physical and legal custody can either be jointly shared between both parents (joint custody) or exclusively awarded to one parent (sole custody).

Shared Custody

Shared custody means both parents divide responsibilities for the children. Joint custody includes:

  • Shared physical custody: Both parents assume the responsibility of seeing to the child's physical needs, with the child dividing their time between both parents' residences.
  • Shared legal custody: Both parents jointly make critical decisions for the child.

Shared custody doesn't necessarily imply a 50/50 division of time but indicates that the child has the right to reside with both parents. The exact time allocation for each household is determined based on the child's best interests. It's also possible for one parent to have full-time physical custody while having joint legal custody with the other parent.

Sole Custody

Sole custody signifies that only one parent has been awarded custody of the child. This arrangement may be the best solution if circumstances exist that could complicate joint custody.

Sole physical custody: The child resides full-time with the custodial parent. The non-custodial parent is usually granted visitation rights unless severe issues like abuse or neglect exist.

Sole legal custody: The custodial parent solely makes important decisions about the child's upbringing. If a parent can prove that the other parent is unfit, irresponsible, or abusive, the court may award sole legal custody to one parent.

Grandparents' Rights to Custody in New Jersey

In New Jersey, parents' rights take precedence over those of grandparents, and only in exceptional cases (such as when both parents are deceased or deemed unfit) are grandparents given full custody of a child. More frequently, grandparents may petition the courts for visitation rights, allowing them to spend time with the child and be involved in their life. However, these rights are not automatically assigned, and the grandparents must prove that it serves the child's best interests.

New Jersey Child Custody Orders

During child custody proceedings, the court issues orders assigning one or both parents with responsibilities related to the child's care, living arrangements, and upbringing. There are three types of child custody orders: emergency, temporary, and final custody orders.

An emergency custody order is a temporary order, usually lasting for a few days, that is commonly issued in cases involving allegations of abuse or neglect or when there is a risk of parental child abduction. This type of order is typically granted when there is an immediate threat to the safety of the child.

A temporary custody order is issued pending a hearing to determine permanent custody. It generally grants one parent exclusive physical custody in the meantime, while the other parent is offered visitation rights unless there's a valid reason to deny them.

The final custody order represents the court's ultimate determination of the child's custody arrangement. This order is designed to remain in effect until the child reaches the age of 18, unless modified by subsequent court proceedings. Its purpose is to provide a clear and definitive resolution while preserving the child's best interests and ensuring stability.

Consequences of Violating a Child Custody Order

In New Jersey, violating a child custody order is considered a crime. Examples of actions that violate a custody order include, but are not necessarily limited to:

  • Unlawfully moving the child out of state;
  • Failing to return the child to the other parent as per the agreement;
  • Hiding the child's location;
  • Denying the other parent their lawful rights to the child; or
  • Exposing the child to potentially dangerous situations.

The severity of the violation can lead to criminal charges varying from second to third-degree offenses, resulting in substantial fines and potential imprisonment. Moreover, such violations could adversely affect your custody rights.

Considerations in Deciding the Child's Residence

In New Jersey, individuals are recognized as minors until they reach the age of 18, at which point they are legally considered adults. As such, children do not possess the legal right to decide their living arrangements until they turn 18. However, during custody hearings, the family court judge considers the child's wishes along with other factors such as the child's age, health, welfare, the parent's ability to provide care, and any history of domestic violence or abuse. While the court ultimately determines custody based on the child's best interests, the child's desires can play a role in deciding their living situation. Generally, the older the child, the more weight the judge will give to their preferences when determining custody. Additionally, when deciding custody for siblings, the state prefers to keep siblings together in custody arrangements whenever possible, as research suggests this arrangement provides greater stability for the children.

The Court's Role in Child Custody Decisions

The court strives to ensure both parents receive equitable and impartial treatment during custody proceedings while prioritizing the child's best interests. It examines factors such as the parent's capacity to offer a safe and stable environment, the child's relationship with each parent, and the child's own desires without making assumptions as to which parent the child should reside with. Since every family and situation is unique, the solution to what is best for the child can differ substantially from case to case.

By default, courts favor joint custody arrangements to allow children to maintain strong and affectionate relationships with both parents. However, an equal 50/50 custody split may not be suitable for every family, so the court must base its decision on the relevant legal provisions.

Factors Influencing the Court's Decision in Child Custody

When deciding child custody, the court must consider numerous factors in the context of what is best for the child. These factors include:

  • Each parent's capability to provide a secure and stable environment for the child;
  • Any history of abuse by either or both parents;
  • A history of domestic violence in the relationship;
  • Mental or psychological concerns;
  • Any history of drug or alcohol problems;
  • Criminal records, such as convictions for sex offenses or domestic violence and
  • The child's preference if they are mature enough.

New Jersey law encourages continual contact between minor children and their parents whenever possible, regardless of the final custody arrangement. However, certain negative elements may render this impractical or unsafe for the child. For example, most judges will deny custody (and sometimes visitation) to a parent who is a convicted child abuser or sex offender or to a parent with apparent unresolved issues with domestic violence.

Process of Child Custody Proceedings in Union County, NJ

The Family Division of the Union County Superior Court is responsible for administering cases related to child custody, divorce, visitation, and other family matters. Here is an overview of the standard process for a child custody trial in Union County, NJ.

Custody Petition/Complaint

A parent can file a custody complaint with the Family Division of the Union County Superior Court. In emergency situations, the court can hear the case on the same day, resulting in a temporary or emergency custody order. Alternatively, one can request custody as part of a divorce complaint.

Custody petitions can be filed at:

Union County Courthouse

Family Division

2 Broad Street Elizabeth, NJ 07207

Phone: 908-787-1650 ext. 21280

Development of a Parenting Plan

New Jersey encourages parents to collaborate together to formulate a written parenting plan that details their individual responsibilities for the child's care, including visitation schedules and holiday arrangements. The judge will generally approve this plan unless it is deemed to be not in the child's best interests.


If the parents are unable to agree on a parenting plan together, the state recommends mediation to facilitate an agreement outside of court. If an agreement remains elusive after mediation, a custody evaluation may be conducted to ascertain the child's best interests.

Custody Hearing

In instances where parents fail to reach a mutually acceptable agreement through voluntary negotiation or mediation, the custody case advances to a formal hearing at Family Court. Both parties present evidence to support their respective sides, and the judge makes a custody decision based on the evidence presented, always prioritizing the child's wellbeing.

Appeal Process

If you disagree with the judge's custody ruling or believe your rights have otherwise been violated, you have the right to appeal the custody order by filing a motion with the Family Court or appealing to the Superior Court.

Modifying Child Custody Arrangements

As the dynamics of family situations change and a child's needs evolve, the existing custody arrangement may not be in the child's best interest after a period of time. In such scenarios, either parent has the right to request a modification of the agreement from the court. It is incumbent upon the parent making the petition to establish that the proposed change is justified due to altered circumstances.

Why Hire a Family Law Attorney for Your New Jersey Child Custody Case

Although it's not legally mandatory to engage an attorney for child custody disputes, hiring an experienced family law attorney can significantly improve the likelihood of securing a favorable custody arrangement. A proficient attorney can:

  • Steer through complex court processes and ensure adherence to vital deadlines. A seasoned attorney will lead you through legal proceedings, guaranteeing all necessary documentation is submitted promptly.
  • Evaluate unexpected consequences of custody arrangements. Custody arrangements can have unintended consequences that you may not see on your own. Your attorney can balance the pros and cons of a proposed agreement to help you make an informed decision.
  • Advocate for your interests in court, if required. If your case proceeds to a hearing, a skilled attorney will assist in formulating a persuasive argument, supported by evidence, to champion your parental rights and the child's best interests.

An Advocate for You and Your Child in Union County

Addressing matters of child custody, visitation rights, and other associated family law issues can be daunting, perplexing, and emotionally draining. Thankfully, you don't have to face these obstacles alone. The Lento Family Law Team has extensive experience in successfully handling even the most complicated child custody cases in Union County, NJ, and they will work to obtain the best possible outcome for both you and your child. To schedule a case consultation, contact us online or call us at (888) 535-3686.

Contact a Family Law Attorney Today!

Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience practicing Family Law in New Jersey. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you and your family, contact our offices today. Family Law Attorney Joseph Lento will go above and beyond the needs for any client and fight for what is fair.

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