As a parent, you find your children to be a singular focus in your mind. There is little in the world more important than their safety, stability, and happiness. When faced with a divorce or separation from the children’s other parent, the questions swirl in your head. What impact will this have on the children? Where will they live?
Child custody law is complex and intricate, but the bottom line is that you have rights to your children. In fact, the law considers the rights of both parents to be equal. Despite this, society clearly has a different view of the roles of mothers and fathers. The impact of these views cannot be understated as they can shape the way a parent is perceived by the numerous people involved in the child custody process, as well as how the court weighs the many factors involved in reaching its custody decisions. Let us help you. The attorneys at Williams Law Group can help you navigate this journey and get the answers to your questions so you can have some peace of mind.
For your benefit, we have outlined the factors that courts must consider in their child custody decisions and the different types of custody arrangements available in New Jersey.
What forms of Custody Does New Jersey Recognize?
There are two forms of custody, legal and physical. Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make major decisions regarding the child’s health, education, religion, and welfare. Physical custody refers to whom the child primarily lives with. Courts will usually award legal and physical custody in the following arrangements:
- Joint Legal Custody to Both Parents – In this common arrangement, the child will usually live with one parent most of the time, this parent is the residential custodian of the child. The other parent will be provided a standard visitation schedule. This visitation schedule will be determined by the need of the parents and the needs of the child. In addition, this arrangement allows both parents to share in the duties of making major decisions regarding the child’s health, education, and general welfare.
- Sole Legal and Physical Custody to One Parent – Sole legal and physical custody of a child is a less common custody arrangement where the parent with whom the child lives also has the ability to make all major decisions for the child, as well as minor decisions. The reason that this is less common is because a judge must make a determination that the other parent is “unfit” in that the “parents’ conduct has a substantial adverse effect on the child”. This could include a history of violence, substance abuse, or abuse and neglect (which has not been adequately addressed). However, even if a parent is unfit, a court will still try to allow “appropriate parenting time” which may include supervised visitation.
- Shared Legal and Physical Custody – A shared custody arrangement is one in which the child spends equal (or almost-equal) time and has equal contact with both parents. Both parents also share in decision making for the child. This arrangement usually occurs by agreement or where a judge determines that the parents can harmoniously co-parent and have a highly effective ability to communicate with one another. This arrangement can also lower a parent’s child support obligation as both parents are sharing in responsibility for the child’s care.
What Do Courts Consider When Determining Custody?
The underlying consideration when a court makes a child custody decision is the best interest of the child. The law presumes that it is in the child’s best interest to have frequent and continued contact with both parents.
In making an award of custody, the court is required to consider the following factors:
- The parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child;
- the parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time (not based on substantiated abuse);
- the interaction and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings;
- any history of domestic violence;
- the safety of the child and either parent from physical abuse by the other parent;
- the preference of the child (when of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision);
- the needs of the child;
- the stability of the home;
- the quality and continuity of the child’s education;
- the fitness of the parents;
- the geographical proximity of the parents’ homes;
- the extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to the separation;
- the parents’ employment responsibilities; and
- the age and number of the children.
Do Courts Allow Parents to Make Agreed Custody Arrangements?
Yes. Agreed custody arrangements are preferred because of how important it is for children that their parents can peacefully co-parent them. In fact, the only way a court can deny a custody agreement is if it is “contrary to the best interests of the child.” If the parents cannot reach an agreement, courts with often order them to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), such as mediation. If mediation attempts are unsuccessful, the court may require each parent to submit a custody plan which the court shall consider in awarding custody.
How The Williams Law Group Can Help You
Few things can become as heated and disputed as a child custody case, which can feel like a battle. Fortunately, the experienced child custody attorneys at Williams Law Group, LLC can help guide you through this legally complex and emotionally challenging process. If you are involved in a divorce, child custody case, or child abuse and neglect case, you don’t have to face it alone. Our office is located in Union, New Jersey and we provide aggressive and compassionate legal representation to Union, Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris, Monmouth, and Middlesex counties, and the surrounding areas. Call us today at (908) 810-1083, email us at [email protected], or fill out our confidential online form to schedule a consultation with an attorney.