If you've been involved in a New Jersey child custody case, you've likely heard the phrase “best interests of the child.” A child's best interest is a doctrine that New Jersey courts utilize to justify family law decisions. Although this doctrine appears to be a relatively simple concept on the surface, it's natural for parents to wonder how the courts go about determining what's best for their children.
Parents vs. The Court: Who Decides?
First and foremost, it's important to note that it's possible for divorced and separated parents to craft a child custody and parenting plan without the involvement of the court. Parents who can amicably conjure up an agreement that they mutually agree upon without major challenges may impose what they think is best for their child. But in cases where the parents can't manage to see eye to eye, or in situations when a plan doesn't reasonably align with a child's best interest, the court will not hesitate to exercise its right to intervene.
When the discretion of a child custody agreement or parenting plan decision is left up to a judge, he or she has specific factors laid out by New Jersey law to consider. These factors ultimately fall under the following four classifications:
The Parents' Capacity to Co-Parent Effectively
The judge will be tasked with evaluating each parent's willingness to communicate and cooperate with the other regarding matters of the child.
Divorce and separation are tumultuous processes that leave parents feeling a range of emotions. Perhaps you're upset about the split and want to slander your ex-partner in court out spite. Regardless of the situation, it's crucial parents keep in mind that the court isn't likely to side with a parent who wishes to tarnish a child's relationship with his or her other parent. The best interest of a child (in cases that don't involve domestic violence, other types of abuse or neglect) entails a healthy relationship with both parents.
A Child's Physical Health and Safety
In most cases, the judge aims to rule in a way that allows each parent to spend ample parenting time to cultivate and maintain a healthy relationship with their children. This is as long as the court is convinced that the children will be physically safe in the care of each parent. If there's a concern that one or both parents are incapable of providing a safe environment for their children, the judge may order supervised parenting time or limit visitation. In worst-case scenarios, a judge has the authority to suspend a parent's custody rights.
A Child's Emotional Welfare
The emotional needs of children are just as important as the physical aspects of child custody cases. The court will attempt to evaluate what decision will minimally impact a child's emotional state in post-divorce/separation life. The children's dependence on each parent, their relationship with their siblings, their interactions with extended family, and their preferences will be evaluated to come up with a ruling that is best for a child's emotional wellbeing.
There are practical logistics that must be worked out when crafting a viable child custody plan that reflects the best interests of a child. Each parent's schedule, the number of children in each home, the ages of the children in each home, and school preparations are a few of the practical considerations that the court will factor in when making a final decision.
Craft a Workable Parenting Plan Today
Figuring out how to split parenting time after a divorce or separation is almost always difficult, even for the most amicable co-parents. This is why it's important to seek the advice of an experienced legal professional. Create a solid parenting plan with the help of New Jersey family law attorney Joseph D. Lento. Schedule a consultation today online or by phone at 888-535-3686.