Understanding Child Custody in New Jersey

There are numerous ways the courts could award custody of a minor child to parents. In some cases, a judge will simply sign off on the parenting agreement jointly offered by the parents. In others, the court makes the final decision during hotly contested litigation over parental rights.

In either case, understanding child custody in New Jersey is critical. Custody determinations could give parents sole or joint custody, including physical and legal custody of a minor child. A knowledgeable child custody attorney can explain the types of custody in more detail.

Joint Legal Custody

Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make important decisions in their child’s life. These decisions include where the child will go to school, what religion they will be brought up under, and how their medical care will be approached.

Joint legal custody gives both parents a say in these important decisions. That does not mean that both parents will weigh in equally on every decision, however. Some parenting agreements give one parent the right to make decisions regarding healthcare matters, while the other parent will largely oversee their educational needs. In most joint legal custody arrangements, one parent is given final decision-making rights.

Sole Legal Custody

While joint legal custody is the preferred arrangement under state law, there are some situations where the courts will determine that only one parent should have the right to make decisions about their child’s wellbeing. In these cases, a judge will award sole legal custody to one parent, allowing them to make the important decisions in their child’s life without having to consult the other parent first. Typically, the court will only award sole legal custody in situations where the one parent is unfit, unavailable to care for their child, or makes decision making so unbearable that major decisions for the child cannot be made in a reasonable and timely fashion.

Physical Custody

In addition to legal custody, the courts must also decide physical custody. This determines which parent the child will live with. Just like with legal custody, New Jersey courts frequently award primary physical custody to parents. A primary physical custody award results in one parent having the majority of the time with the child. A parent with primary physical custody is referred to as the Parent of Primary Residence, or PPR. The other parent is referred to as the Parent of Alternate Residence, or PAR.

Joint Physical or “50/50” Custody

The courts are awarding joint physical custody, or “50/50 custody,” with increasing frequency. This is where each parent will enjoy equal time with the child.

Sole Physical Custody

The court may also determine that it is not in the best interests of a child for a parent to have physical custody, in which case, the judge will give the other parent sole physical custody of the child. Visitation, including regular overnight stays, may still be a future possibility for the non-custodial parent in a sole physical custody arrangement.

Let a New Jersey Attorney Help You Understand Child Custody

Understanding the basics of child custody in New Jersey is an important first step in protecting your parental rights. Before you move forward with a custody case, it is best to understand the potential outcomes.

An experienced family law attorney can help you through each step of the child custody process. Reach out today to speak with a dedicated legal professional about your case.

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