Resolving child custody issues can be one of the most stressful aspects of divorce, particularly for a parent with a substantially lower income than the other. Low-income parents in a custody battle often fear that their financial situation can dash their hopes of having custody of their child. However, although there's no doubt that financial stability is essential in raising a child, low income alone will not bar a New Jersey parent from obtaining custody.
What Does Child Custody Mean?
There are two forms of custody in New Jersey: physical and legal. A parent with physical custody shares a residence with their child. A parent with legal custody has the authority to make significant life decisions for the child regarding religion, education, and health matters. New Jersey courts usually prefer that parents share physical and legal custody of their children and seek that end when it is in the child's best interest.
The Best Interest of the Child Standard
The child's best interest is always the paramount consideration in any family law context. New Jersey law enumerates 14 factors the court must assess when deciding the child's best interest in a custody dispute. Such factors include the relationship the child has with each parent, the amount and quality of the time each parent has spent with the children, the needs of the child, the safety of the child with each parent, any history of domestic violence or parental substance abuse, the health of the parents, the age and number of the children, the child's preferences, and the parent's employment responsibilities.
Concerning financial stability, the court scrutinizes three factors:
- Ability to provide for the child's basic needs. Every parent has a duty to provide for their child's most essential needs. The court will assess each parent's ability to provide their child with food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare.
- Ability to provide a stable living environment. The court will examine each parent's living situation, including whether they have consistent housing, the safety of their neighborhood, and whether they have utilities, such as electricity and running water.
- Ability to provide educational opportunities. The court will assess the extent to which each parent's financial situation allows the child to experience certain academic, educational, or extracurricular opportunities that will foster their growth and development.
The Right to Child Support
Even if a low-income parent struggles to meet a child's basic needs, the court may still award them custody if an examination of all the factors shows such custody is in the child's best interest. As part of the custody order, the court would likely direct the higher-earning parent to pay the custodial parent spousal and child support to ensure the child's needs are met. Courts typically use the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines to calculate a fair support package, although they might deviate from these guidelines if they have reasonable cause to do so.
Consult a Skilled New Jersey Family Attorney
If you are getting divorced and anticipate thorny child custody issues on the horizon, you should speak with an experienced family lawyer as soon as possible. Contact the New Jersey family law attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Family Law team. We're ready to help you through this complex situation and reach the best outcome possible for your child. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or schedule an appointment online.