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New Jersey Child Custody: What Divorcing Parents Should Know
During a divorce, there are many issues that must be settled, including property dispersal and alimony. But the most significant decision you need to make is the custody agreement and how this divorce will impact your children’s lives and well-being.
Divorce is difficult under conditions that don’t involve children, but when you throw child custody into the mix, it can feel overwhelming. To help with this emotional area, we’re going to break down the information you need to know about child custody and how this impacts your divorce in New Jersey.
What’s Child Custody?
First, let’s get our terminology clear about what child custody is and isn’t. Child custody isn’t child support. While a parent may have custody of a child and the other parent may have visitation rights, the non-custodial parent may be required to pay child support each month. This is a separate issue, however, to that of child custody.
In New Jersey, child custody is generally handled in one of the many ways that you also see in other states. New Jersey tries to accommodate a 50/50 custody split as much as possible, provided one parent isn’t deemed to be unfit and the schedule allows for such a split. It’s important for the child to have a strong relationship with both parents, which is why New Jersey’s custody laws are set up this way.
What’s Legal Custody and Physical Custody?
New Jersey defines custody in a couple of different categories—legal custody and physical custody. If a parent has legal custody, that means they’re the decision-maker for the child when it comes to major issues such as education, medical treatments, and religious affiliation.
If the parent has sole legal custody, they’re the only parent who can make these decisions. If the former couple shares joint legal custody, they must share in the decision-making processes involving the child.
Physical custody refers to which of the parents the child actually physically resides with. With sole physical custody, the child stays mostly with one parent and then has visitation time with the other parent.
Where possible, the courts in New Jersey will grant a parent either sole or joint custody while still affirming the other parent’s rights to visitation. However, this isn’t the case if the other parent is deemed unfit. This happens if it’s proven in court that the parent has a history of domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse, or has no interest in being an active part in raising the child.
What’s Time Sharing?
When a couple divorces in New Jersey, they must create a parenting plan agreement. This is a mutually agreed plan that details when the child will be with each parent. If, however, the parents can’t agree on a parenting plan, the court will order them to enter into mediation with a neutral third-party mediator.
The only time this won’t happen is if one of the parents is violent or otherwise ruled unfit. At this point, the court will step in and determine its own time-sharing plan.
Ultimately, any time-sharing plan comes down to one idea: what’s in the best interest of the child. If the court (or a mediator) is expected to decide on time-sharing, they may use some or all of the following information to determine what will ultimately be best for the child:
- Communication and cooperation between the parents;
- Previous attempts to block visitation or otherwise prevent the other parent from seeing a child;
- Any history of domestic violence, child abuse or drug/alcohol abuse;
- The quality and continuity of the child’s education;
- The stability of the relationship between the child, the parents and any other family members in the household;
- The extent and quality of time spent with the child before the divorce; and
- The parent’s employment and other responsibilities.
What Do Common Time-Sharing Arrangements Look Like?
The court will generally assert legal and physical custody with one or both parents. If one parent is given sole physical custody, the child may spend the school year with the custodial parent and visit with the non-custodial parent every other weekend and on holidays.
If the parents share joint physical custody, they may split the time with the child evenly (or as evenly as possible). Usually, this takes the form of the children staying with one parent one week and then the other parent the following week.
Regardless of whether a parent has sole or joint custody, it’s important to set aside differences with their ex for the good of the child. Both parents need to be supportive and avoid speaking negatively about the other parent so the child can have a happy and stable relationship with both parents.
It’s always a good idea to retain a family law attorney who can help you navigate child custody issues in New Jersey so that you can be sure you prioritize your child during this stressful time.
Contact the Knowledgeable Family Law Attorneys at Smedley Law Group in West Deptford, NJ Today
If you’re thinking about filing for divorce, you’ll also most likely be dealing with another matter like child custody, child support, or division of assets, so you’ll need to speak with a qualified attorney. The New Jersey family law attorneys at Smedley Law Group represent clients throughout the state, including Williamstown, Woodbury Heights, Runnemede, and Westville. We understand how challenging this time can be for you, which is why we’ll fight hard to protect your interests, and the interests of your loved ones, throughout the legal process. Call us at (856) 251-0800 or fill out our confidential contact form to schedule a consultation. We have an office conveniently located at 750 Cooper Street, Woodbury, NJ 08096.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.