What Makes a Parent? Custody in Non-Traditional Families

Custody refers to the rights of a child’s parent. A custody award does not depend on the gender of the parent or even the parental role. What matters more is who acted as a parent to the child and what’s in the best interests of the child.

For custody purposes, a parent figure can be a birth parent, a stepparent, the domestic partner of a parent, or even a cohabitant. These definitions have a significant bearing on many same-sex couple households and households with one biological parent and one partner. A household cohabitant or a partner of the parent can be granted custody or visitation if it’s in the child’s best interests.

In the past, sole custody was often awarded to the child’s primary caretaker, which was frequently the biological mother. In recent years, as research shows shared custody can provide many benefits for both child and family, more parents are sharing custody than ever before. In very recent years, there have even been cases of tri-parenting (i.e. three people sharing custody). A non-biological parent (e.g. the domestic partner of a biological parent) could get custody if the child didn’t have another biological parent figure who wanted custody. Although not typically covered under statute, flexible custody models such as these can help non-traditional families find solutions to their custody and parenting time problems. In many cases, these parent figures are given visitation (i.e. parenting time) but not custody. The legal standard in custody cases is whatever is in the child’s best interests. Regardless of biological relations, it’s important for most children to have continued contact with whoever served in a parental role, whether or not they can get custody.

A non-traditional family without the nuclear mother and father model can still face custody battles. In fact, these battles are sometimes the most complex because non-biological parent figures often do not have inherent legal rights regarding the child. For this reason, it’s important you speak with an experienced New Jersey child custody attorney if you have questions about custody. Navigating a custody case is difficult for any parent, no matter their relation to the child. A trusted attorney can help you identify your custody options and help you get a custody order that looks out for your child’s best interests.

Do you have questions about custody? If so, Williams Law Group, LLC can help. Our skilled attorneys can help ensure your custody order protects your rights and benefits your child. Located in Union, New Jersey, Williams Law Group, LLC provides compassionate and dedicated legal services to Union, Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris, Monmouth, and Middlesex counties, and the surrounding areas. Our knowledgeable attorneys handle divorce and family law, child custody, and child abuse/neglect cases. Call our office at (908) 738-8404, email us at info@awilliamslawgroup.com, or contact us through our confidential online form to schedule a consultation and ultimately get you connected with an experienced New Jersey divorce and child custody attorney.

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