New Jersey Child Custody Lawyer
Making decisions on child custody and visitation issues is often the most emotionally challenging aspect of a divorce. If you are grappling with these issues, you should talk to sympathetic advocates who have helped others through similar situations in the past.
When you are seeking custody of your child after a divorce, you may need the help of a skilled New Jersey child custody lawyer who could mount a strong case on your behalf. A skilled family attorney could explain your rights and champion your case.
Understanding Child Custody in NJ
People often think the term “child custody” means where a child lives, but custody is more complex than that. It is important to understand concepts and terms a court will use when handling your child custody matter. A New Jersey matrimonial attorney can ensure a parent understands their rights and responsibilities regarding child custody.
Physical custody means where the child physically lives, as well as which parent’s address is used for school registration and health records. A parent with physical custody may have the children living with them all the time, half the time, or something in between.
Even when a judge orders shared (equal) physical custody, one parent will be designated as the custodial parent for school attendance pruposes. A parent without primary physical custody will have visitation rights, mosy often called parenting time in New Jersey courts.
Legal custody is the authority to make major decisions about significant issues in a child’s life, such religious upbringing, medical decisions, enrollment in extracurricular activities, and educational issues. A court usually awards both parents joint legal custody. Less commonly, the court mayaward one parent sole legal custody. In some cases, one parent could have legal custody on some specified issues, such as religion, while the other parent’s opinion controls other issues, such as healthcare.
The Court Favors 50/50 Physical Custody When Possible
New Jersey state law does not declare a preference for either parent in disputes over child custody. While courts traditionally were more likely to award primary custody to the mother, many fathers today seek joint custody or at least substantial visitation rights.
N.J.S.A. § 9:2-4 declares the state’s policy that children should have “frequent and continuing contact with both parents.” While there is no presumption of equal (50/50) physical custody, in practice, courts are often interpreting this statute to encourage shared custody arrangements—meaning as close to equal time with each parent as possible—unless this arrangement is not in the best interests of the children or a parent is deemed unfit.
If a divorce is amicable or uncontested, and it is likely that the parties will get along when it comes to parenting decisions, joint custody could be a good option. Both the mother and father may share physical and legal custody and work out a parenting plan that reflects the best division of the child’s time. A New Jersey attorney could help a parent develop a child custody plan that meets their family’s needs.
Factors the Court Considers When Making Child Custody Decisions
In any family law matter, the court will look to the best interests of the children in deciding what the outcome will be. In doing so, the court examines the factors set forth in N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c), which are commonly known as the best interests factors as well as any other relevant evidence. The court will consider factors such as how far apart the parents live from each other, the ages of the children, each parent’s ability and willingness to come to agreements with the other parent, and whether there is a history of domestic abuse. Each parent’s willingness to support the children’s relationship with the other parent is an important consideration in custody determinations. Courts may disfavor a parent who tries to keep a child away from their other parent when the other parent has never been found to have abused or neglected the child.
The court also will look at practical matters such as where the parents live in relation to each other, each parent’s work schedules, and the availability of transportation for the children. If one or more of the children has special health or educational needs, the judge will consider whether one parent is better suited to address them.
When parents cannot agree on custody issues, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) to investigate each parent’s home, speak with the children, and interview other parties like neighbors, extended family, and teachers. Courts typically place significant weight on a GAL’s opinion.
If the child is old and mature enough to express an intelligent opinion and has a strong preference to be with one parent, that could be an important factor. However, a judge will always make the final decision based on a child’s best interests, which may or may not be the child’s preferred outcome.
Seeking Sole Custody
Although the state’s policy is to foster meaningful relationships with both parents, the best interests of the children control every family law decision. If one parent was physically or psychologically abusive in the past toward their children or spouse, these claims would typically be taken into account by the court in deciding custody issues. This could result in one parent getting less visitation time or even having to hire supervisors to accompany them on visitations.
A parent should proceed with caution when seeking sole custody. They must present proof that the other parent is unfit or cannot provide a safe environment for the children. Judges know parents sometimes make false claims of violence or abuse to exact revenge against a spouse, and they may punish a parent who makes unsubstantiated claims. Sole custody is reserved for a very small minority of cases.
An experienced New Jersey attorney could help a parent assemble compelling evidence to support a request for primary child custody. A child custody lawyer could also argue against the other parent receiving rights of visitation if a history of domestic violence, substance abuse, or other circumstances make this necessary.
Creating a Parenting Plan Together Produces the Best Results
Divorcing or separating parents must submit a plan to the court detailing their preferred child custody and coparenting arrangements. When the parents submit a joint plan, the judge must review it to ensure it promotes the children’s best interests before issuing the agreement as an enforceable court order. If the parents cannot agree, each individually submits their own preferred plan, and the judge either selects one, creates their own, or takes certain terms from each of the parent’s plans and combines them.
The court encourages parents to work together to create a plan whenever possible. Parents are much better positioned to formulate a workable plan than a judge who does not know the children. Parents who find it challenging to negotiate with each other could work with a mediator to craft an acceptable agreement that works for everyone.
Addressing Child Support in Parenting Plans
The parent the children live with most of the time may be entitled to financial support from the non-custodial parent. Child support arrangements must be part of an enforceable parenting plan. New Jersey usually uses a formula called the Child Support Guidelines to determine child support amounts except in certain special cases, such as when the parents have a high combined net income. A local family attorney could determine the amount of child support required in a particular custody case. A legal professional could also make a case to deviate from the formula amount if warranted.
Let a New Jersey Child Custody Attorney Assist You
With more women having careers and more men taking an active role in parenting, the awarding of custody is not as automatic a process as it was in the past. This does not mean the process is not complex or that it should be approached without qualified assistance.
Any parent seeking child custody may benefit from the help of an experienced New Jersey child custody lawyer. Call today to schedule a meeting with your seasoned local attorney.