What is Considered in Child Custody Cases in New Jersey? 

Child Custody in New Jersey

While the courts consider many factors when determining child custody arrangements, the best interests of the child are always the top priority. There are two primary elements of custody that must be determined: legal and physical custody. Legal custody is the right to make vital decisions for the child, such as education, medical care, and religion. Physical custody is where the child spends the majority of their time.

Parents who are fairly agreeable can negotiate parenting time with a lawyer through mediation. This is encouraged because it can reduce conflict and allows both parents to feel like they are actively involved in the decisions that affect their child. If they cannot agree, they defer to family court to settle child custody matters. For a better understanding of how parenting arrangements are created, it is important to learn about mediators, arbitrators, and what judges consider in New Jersey child custody cases.

Parents’ Employment Situation

The court will evaluate whether both parents are employed, their job schedules, and how far their place of work is from their home. This information matters if a parent travels often for work or works long hours out of the home. In those cases, it may make sense for the parent who spends more time at home to have physical custody so that the child can have a more stable home environment.

Living Arrangements

The courts want to ensure children have a safe and healthy place to grow and thrive. This means that the court will evaluate whether the parents maintain a stable home, if their house is close to the child’s school, and who lives in the households. It is important to determine that the parents have the ability to provide everything the child needs, including food, clothing, and a loving home. If there are siblings in the household, the judge will likely keep the children together under the same roof.

Children’s Wishes

Children over 12 years old can make their wishes known to the judge; this is the age when children are considered mature enough to decide where they want to live. However, the judge still has the final decision on child custody, but they will consider the child’s preference. Once the child turns 18 years old, they can decide where they want to live.

With child custody arrangements, it is important to remember that every family is unique. What works for one family may not work for another. While every custody arrangement is subject to state laws, the specific details of each case vary from family to family.

Overview of New Jersey State Child Custody Laws

The courts presume that children benefit from custody arrangements that allow for time spent with both parents unless extenuating circumstances suggest otherwise.

There are two types of physical custody in New Jersey:

  • Sole custody. The child lives with one parent and has appropriate time with the non-custodial parent.
  • Joint custody. The child alternates between both parents who work together to make decisions about the child’s growth and development.

Legal custody is the right to make major life decisions for the child. These decisions might concern education, medical care, religion, extracurricular activities, vacations, and employment. Like physical custody, parents can either share legal custody and both have input in these life decisions. Additionally, one parent can be solely responsible for making daily choices for their child.

Sole legal custody is fairly uncommon in New Jersey. Even if one parent lives at a distance or does not see the child regularly, they can still be involved in major life decisions. Only parents deemed unfit are prohibited from being involved in these aspects of the child’s life.

Custom Parenting Plans

Sometimes, the court finds another arrangement to be in the best interests of the child. The parenting plan could be some hybrid of the options above. New Jersey is lenient in this regard as long as the ultimate plan is best for the children. Children’s needs are best met when the court treats every case individually and truly considers all the factors listed above.

Grandparents’ Rights

New Jersey is one state that allows grandparents to petition the court for a visitation order. Even if a parent objects to grandparenting time, the court will allow it if it is in the best interests of the child. To better understand grandparents’ visitation rights, it is best to consult a knowledgeable lawyer.

What is an Unfit Parent?

Parents must show they are responsible, safe, involved parents to get any type of custody over the children. Those with a history of substance abuse, criminal offenses, or physical or sexual abuse may be required to have supervised visitation. An unfit parent is someone who cannot provide the love, guidance, discipline, and financial support every child needs. Some individuals are incapable of meeting their children’s needs for many reasons, including domestic violence, mental illness, and substance abuse.

New Jersey law defines an unfit parent as someone who has dangerous habits that endanger the child’s welfare and fails to provide education, protection, and maintenance for the child. The courts prefer to allow both parents access to the children, and there must be substantial evidence to prove a parent is unfit to care for the child. Concrete proof must validate claims that a parent is too careless, irresponsible, or dangerous to care for their child.

An unfit parent can cause real and lasting physical and emotional trauma to a child. It is important to contact a lawyer who will take those concerns to the court to reduce visitation or mandate supervised visits. The parent who believes another parent is a danger to the child has the burden of proof. A parent should gather photographs, videos, emails, and texts that document the alleged behaviors. If physical abuse or sexual abuse are involved, a parent should file a police report and keep all medical records as well. At the first sign of a problem, a parents should notify a lawyer and follow their guidance.

What is a Custody Evaluation?

When parents cannot agree on parenting time in mediation, the courts may want more information before making a determination. They will ask for a custody evaluation. Specially-trained mental health professionals investigate all the issues listed above to make their own objective opinion about the custody plan.

The court can also request a similar investigation by the family division. This process also looks into the parent’s fitness, living situation, and employment to give more insight into the family dynamic. Sometimes, guardian ad litem (GAD) is appointed to interview the child and advocate on their behalf. This often happens when a parent is accused of abuse or neglect. This way, the child has a safe place and non-biased person to speak to about their experiences with that parent.

What Happens to an Unfit Parent?

In New Jersey, a parent found to be unfit faces serious consequences, such as the denial of custodial rights or parental rights and eliminated or limited visitations. When a parent’s rights are terminated, custody goes to the other parent or another legal guardian. If both parents are deemed unfit, another person can adopt the child.

Child custody laws exist to give children a voice and create parenting plans that meet their emotional, mental, and physical needs. To accommodate these needs, mediators, judges, and arbitrators look at the complete picture of a family’s dynamic. The goal is always to protect, encourage, and support each and every child. A lawyer will help a parent with child custody matters.

Morristown Child Custody Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Guide Clients Facing Child Custody Challenges

Child custody matters can be especially difficult for parents. The prospect of missing out on any time with children can be painful. For this reason, it is important to have effective legal representation. The Morristown child custody lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. will use every legal tool available to ensure the best possible outcome for you and your child. Call us at 908-575-9777 or complete our online form for an initial consultation. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.