Being on the brink of divorce with children involved forces you to put you and your soon-to-be ex's differences aside to devise a custody and visitation plan. To discuss living separate lives and the need to co-parent can be painful and difficult to process. This is why child custody hearings are the most emotionally charged court process for parents.
If you're heading to court, understanding the basics of child custody orders in New Jersey can maximize your chances of success. In this article, we'll discuss the state's child custody options, the criteria judges evaluate to make custody decisions, and why you need an attorney.
Child Custody Options
Under New Jersey law, child custody and visitation can be formatted in a variety of ways, each of which depends on the arrangement chosen for your situation. Courts generally start a child custody hearing with the assumption that children are more likely to thrive and be happy when they're able to spend time with both parents unless there's proof that the child's welfare is in jeopardy in such a situation.
There are several types of custody considered by New Jersey courts. They include the following.
Joint Legal Custody
This is one of the most common child custody options since both parents are allowed ample time in the child's life. When this arrangement is enforced, one parent serves as the custodial parent (the parent the child lives with), while the other parent serves as the non-custodial parent (the parent that visits). Both parents are responsible for making joint decisions for their children on major issues, including their health, education, religion, and overall general welfare. The custodial parent is responsible for making day-to-day decisions, sometimes with the consent of the non-custodial parents if necessary. Either way, the parent who has the child in his or her care at the time is expected to make decisions that serve the child's best interest.
Shared Legal and Physical Custody
Most parents request this form of custody because it's the most equitable arrangement in terms of the division of parenting time. In a shared legal and physical custody arrangement, one parent may have the child for one week while the other parent has the child the subsequent week. In some cases, the child may be with one parent four days out of the week and with the other parent for the remaining three days.
Sole Legal and Physical Custody
A sole custody order is enforced when one parent is deemed to be absent, unfit, or has a history of child abuse, drug addiction, domestic violence, etc. In a sole custody arrangement, the custodial parent makes all the major decisions regarding the child's education, health, religion, and overall general welfare, as well as day-to-day decisions, without the need to inform the non-custodial parent.
Criteria for Child Custody Decisions in New Jersey
In New Jersey, child custody laws require the courts to take certain factors into consideration when making decisions. These factors help judges understand what the best interest of the child is. For example, if parents are seeking joint custody, the court will examine how well both parents get along. Other factors that are commonly considered in a hearing include:
- Each parent's employment responsibilities
- A history of domestic violence, child abuse, negligence, or substance abuse
- Each parent's capacity to cooperate, communicate, and agree about issues regarding their child
- The stability of each parent's home environment
- The emotional, financial, psychological and physical needs of the child
- A child's preference (when the turn the appropriate age)
- The number of children and their ages
- How close each parent lives from each other
- The quality and continuity of a child's education etc.
- A child's relationship with his or her parents, siblings, and other members of the family
Life is unpredictable. When it comes to raising a child, circumstances are bound to change, and it's possible to outgrow a custody arrangement. When this happens, New Jersey law permits modifications in certain circumstances.
If a parent can prove that there was a substantial change in circumstances, like a move, for example, and that this change was made with the best interest of the child in mind, a modification may be granted. These standards are applicable whether the parenting plan was agreed upon by just the parents or if it was ordered by a court.
New Jersey Family Law Attorney
Child custody issues can be very difficult, and at the Lento Law Firm, we'll work with you to help you understand your options, identify your needs, and reduce some of the stress that many parents feel throughout this process. In a child custody hearing, it's imperative that your rights are protected and that your child's welfare is at the forefront.
If you are going through a divorce and have yet to retain representation, call experienced family law attorney Joseph D. Lento at 888-535-3686 for a consultation.