Sole vs. Shared Custody

By Jake Jenkinson

            Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s contentious divorce matter is not new news; however, there has been a recent update regarding their acrimonious custody dispute. Specifically, it was recently reported that Brad Pitt’s request for joint custody has been granted over the objection of Angelina Jolie who sought sole custody based on alleged prior domestic violence by Brad. If a similar situation arose in New Jersey, how would the court decide a custody application in which one parent seeks sole custody?

            In New Jersey, to obtain sole custody of a child a parent must prove that it is in the best interest of the child and the child’s welfare. There are two different types of sole custody, sole legal custody and sole physical custody. Sole legal custody of a child allows the designated parent to have the final and sole decision-making ability regarding the health, education, and welfare of the child. Sole physical custody is when the child lives with one parent while the other parent can still have visitation with the child.

            While a parent can seek sole custody of their child, courts start with the presumption that joint custody is in the best interest of the child.  Courts start with this presumption because under a joint custody arrangement, both parents are sharing the responsibilities and rights of raising their child and the child has the benefit of maintaining a relationship with both parents. Like sole custody, there are also two types of joint custody, joint-legal custody and joint-physical custody. Joint-legal custody allows for both parents to make decisions with consultation for major decisions regarding the child such as education and health. Joint-physical custody allows for the child to live with both parents and each parent is also responsible for the care of the child.  

Regardless of the type of custody arrangement sought, to determine custody in any custody case, the court decides the matter based on the best interest of the child. The determination of what is best for the child is decided by the courts on a case-by-case based on the statutory factors delineated under N.J.S.A. 9:2-4 which include: the parents’ ability to communicate, operate, and agree in matters that relate to the child, the relationship of the child with their parents and siblings, whether there is any history of domestic violence, the safety of the child and safety of either parent from abuse form the other parent, the preference of the child if they are at a sufficient age to reason and form an intelligent decision, the needs of a child, the stability of the home environment available, the fitness of the parents involved, the age and number of children, the proximity to the house of the parents, and the employment responsibilities of the parent. Further, the court ultimately has the final decision in determining who has custody of the child based on any factors they deem relevant to the case.

If you or someone you know is fighting for sole custody or joint custody of a child, please contact one of the attorneys at Lyons & Associates, P.C. We place a premium on personalized attention for your family law matters and pride ourselves on giving the appropriate guidance and information no matter how obscure the subject matter may be. For a private consultation, contact us by e-mail or call our office at 908-575-9777.