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Child Custody

In New Jersey

Don't Risk Your Children's Well-Being. Resolve Your Child Custody Issues in Positive Ways.

Child custody issues often generate competitive bickering and attempts by one spouse to punish the other by limiting his or her parenting time. Unless custody represents a real danger to the child, I never advocate or support custody battles, or using children for negotiating or punishing.

I favor settling and mediating family law cases amicably when possible instead of going to court. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for your children that you try to reach an amicable solution to child custody issues. Most separating or divorcing parents want what’s best for each child, and courtroom fighting can leave your family broken and emotionally bereft. Establishing a lifelong joint relationship with a spouse or co-parent in raising children is critical to your children’s long-term best interests. As a trained mediator and divorce attorney in freehold, NJ, I offer my services at reasonable rates to find solutions that are best for your family.

Understanding Your Custodial Options Under New Jersey Law

Child custody in New Jersey consists of both physical and legal custody. Physical custody refers to the daily care of the child. Legal custody involves making important decisions like religious affiliation, education, and school activities.

In a majority of cases, parents share joint legal and physical custody because it is usually in the children’s best interests to have a strong relationship with each parent. Under certain circumstances, one parent may be awarded sole physical or legal custody. Sole legal and physical custody is generally reserved in cases where one parent is deemed to be unfit, or where there is abuse, neglect, drug history, etc.

The children’s specific parenting time schedule is often agreed upon by the parties. Parenting time usually includes a schedule that combines evenings, nights, weekends and holidays. If you can’t agree on a schedule, a judge often orders both you and your spouse to submit a custody plan to the court for consideration. You may also be required hire an expert to conduct a custody evaluation.

Of course, every family has different schedules, and no two parenting time schedules will be identical. It is almost universally true, though, that the more specific the schedule the better.

When negotiating a parenting schedule, you should consider the following factors, which would also be considered by a judge if you go to court:

• Custody is awarded on the best interests of each child.
• The physical, mental and emotional health of each parent is considered.
• Geographic location in connection with visitation issues are reviewed by the judge.
• The age and maturity of each child also factor into the court’s decision.
• Older children’s custodial preferences.

How Child Custody Is Determined in New Jersey

Parents can either reach an agreement together about child custody or let the court make this decision that will have a huge impact on their lives and their relationships with their children.

In New Jersey, both parents must be considered equally for child custody. Judges determine custodial and parenting time arrangements based on a number of factors, always focusing on the children’s best interests. If the parents are unable to reach an agreement regarding child custody, the court may consider any of the following factors that are relevant to the case:

• The ability of the parents to agree, communicate, and cooperate in matters related to the child
• The willingness of the parents to accept a proposed custody matter and the history of any previous unjustified problems with visitation
• The child’s relationship with each parent and their siblings
• The quantity and quality of time each parent had with the child before any separations
• The history of any domestic violence
• The child’s safety
• The child’s needs
• The stability of the home environment that each parent can offer
• The quality of and ability to continue the child’s education
• The fitness of each parent
• The employment responsibilities of each parent
• How close the parents’ homes are to each other
• The age and number of children
• The child’s preference if he or she is of sufficient age and ability to form an intelligent question

When both parents agree on a custody arrangement and parenting plan, New Jersey family courts will usually approve the plan so long as it is not clearly against the child’s best interests. Absent this agreement, the court will proceed toward a contested case. It may order a professional custody evaluation be performed and schedule a hearing on the matter.

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NJ Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents

The process to establish child custody in New Jersey is a little bit different when the parents are not married. When a couple is married and has children together, each parent generally has the same rights to the child absent any legal court order to the contrary. However, when a couple is unmarried, the mother is presumed to be the child’s mother under New Jersey law. She generally has full custody and can keep the child away from the father until he has established paternity.

Paternity is usually established by completing a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity at the hospital near the time the child is born or by initiating legal action to establish paternity through a DNA test. Until one of these things occur, the unmarried father generally does not have parental rights. Therefore, before an unmarried father can request visitation or child custody, he must first establish he is the child’s father.

Once paternity is established, the process to determine child custody follows the same procedure as for married parents.

What to Expect from a New Jersey Child Custody Evaluation

A neutral mental health professional may be appointed by the court to conduct a New Jersey child custody evaluation. This evaluation attempts to determine the child’s best custody arrangement based on their physical health and safety, emotional needs, relationship with their parents, and stability of their home life. Just like with all other aspects of child custody decisions, the emphasis is on what is in the child’s best interests.

The child custody evaluator will likely gather information and make recommendations by:

• Interviewing each parent separately
• Interviewing the child
• Interviewing siblings and extended family members
• Observing interactions between the child and each parent
• Reviewing the court file
• Talking to teachers, caregivers, neighbors, doctors, and others familiar with the child and the parents
• Reviewing pertinent medical professionals
• Conducting psychological testing on the child and/or parents

After conducting their investigation, the child custody evaluator will prepare a report to the court and recommend a custody arrangement based on their findings. While the recommendations are not binding on the court, they are often very persuasive.

Why I Endorse Mediation Efforts for Deciding Child Custody

Most children desperately want to continue their relationships with both parents. Regardless of any court’s decision, children usually try to connect with both parents. Both parents typically stay involved with their children for the rest of their lives, so establishing a friendly, non-confrontational child custody arrangement works best for any child’s long-term well-being.

Some of the most important benefits of child custody mediation are:

• Mediation provides tools and resources that you can use to resolve conflicts.
• Mediation resolves conflict more quickly so that you do not become entrenched in a battle with your co-parent.
• Behaving civilly sets a good example for children.
• Mediation focuses on solving problems together and does not make the other parent the other problem.
• Mediation allows you to customize a solution that fits the unique needs of your family.
• You can avoid the court or a stranger making a decision about the custody arrangement and maintain control over the outcome.
• Because you are both part of reaching the particular agreement, you and the other parent are more likely to adhere to the agreement you make.
• Solving your problems with negotiation or mediation sets a precedent for resolving future disputes.

Frequently Asked Questions About Child Custody

How Do I Obtain Custody of My Child in New Jersey?

You file a complaint in the family division in the county where your child resides that sets out basic facts about you, the other parent, and your child. You specifically request legal and/or physical custody of your child and the reasons for this. If you are going through the process of divorce, you include this information and request with your divorce complaint.

Will the New Jersey Court Order 50/50 Custody?

New Jersey courts understand the importance of a child having a relationship with both parents and usually begin with the presumption that 50/50 joint custody is in the best interests of the child. However, this presumption can be overcome by showing that this would not be in the child’s best interests and a different custody arrangement would be.

At What Age Can a Child Choose Which Parent to Live With?

The court will consider the wishes of a child who is mature enough and intelligent enough to communicate their wishes. However, the judge can consider this preference along with many other factors when determining a custody arrangement.

Do I Need a New Jersey Child Custody Lawyer?

A New Jersey child custody lawyer is crucial if you and the other parent do not agree on the custody determination. However, even if you and the other spouse do agree, you may still want to have a New Jersey child custody lawyer who can prepare the necessary paperwork and ensure that you understand your rights and obligations for any proposed agreement.

Can I Deny Visitation if the Other Parent Is Not Paying Child Support?

Child custody and child support are usually treated as two separate legal issues in New Jersey, so paying child support will not necessarily mean you have a right to visitation. Likewise, if the other parent is not paying child support, you must still comply with the court’s order regarding visitation.

Preparing for a Positive Custody Arrangement

The best thing you can do for you children during and after divorce is to put your personal differences aside. This will positively impact your children’s’ well-being more than you can ever know. Putting your differences aside will also impress a judge in the unfortunate event that a judge is deciding your custody arrangement. You should involve yourself deeply in your children’s education and extracurricular activities.

Contact me today for a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss your custody case. I’ll help you understand your options, negotiate an agreement, or fight for your children’s best interests in court if necessary.

Talk To An Attorney And Get Your Legal Questions Answered

Talk To An Attorney And Get Your Legal Questions Answered

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