In the past, if a couple divorced, custody of the children was generally awarded to the mother. This old-fashioned approach to custody-related decisions likely stemmed from the fact that the father was often the sole breadwinner of the family, while the mother stayed home and took care of the children. Today’s family dynamics do not necessarily follow this traditional idea of parental roles, it is now common for both parents to work full-time.
Whatever your family dynamic is, fathers have the same parental rights as mothers, but according to a survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, less than 20 percent of fathers are awarded full custody. If you are a father who is seeking full or joint custody, there are proactive steps you can take to prepare for the child custody negotiation. This can be a complex and challenging process, so it is recommended that you consult with an experienced child custody lawyer who can protect your parental rights and secure the best possible outcome.
What Are the Different Types of Child Custody?
When making custody-related decisions, the courts generally follow what is known as “the best interests of the child” standard. That means that if the father is in a better position to care for the child and make important decisions for them, he will likely be awarded custody. However, there are different types of custody which are determined by a range of factors, including living arrangements, whether one or both parents work and who is mentally and physically better able to care for the child. The following are the four main types of child custody:
- Joint legal custody: This means that both parents have the right to make important decisions for the child, including things like education, medical decisions and religious matters. If both parents have joint legal custody, one parent may not make decisions about these matters unless the other parent agrees. This is a common custody arrangement in New Jersey, as it is the preferred outcome in most cases.
- Sole legal custody: If a parent has sole legal custody of a child, he or she may make decisions that affect the child without consulting with the other parent. A judge is likely to award sole custody if one parent is deemed to be unfit, or is unavailable.
- Joint physical custody: “Physical custody” refers to where the child lives. If both parents are awarded joint physical custody, it means that the child spends time with each parent based on the living arrangements that are agreed upon by both parents. This can range from splitting the week equally to spending weekends with one parent and week days with the other.
- Sole physical custody: This means that the child spends the majority of time living with one parent, and the non-custodial parent will have visitation rights, or scheduled “parenting time.” The New Jersey courts prefer this term because it emphasizes the important role that the non-custodial parent has, and that it goes beyond simply visiting with the child.
What Can Fathers Do to Be Awarded Custody?
Whether you are seeking joint custody or sole custody of your child, the process can be challenging, particularly if you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement about where the child should live, and with whom. Since less than 20 percent of custodial parents are fathers, you should be prepared to do whatever you can to reach the custody outcome that you are hoping for, and that is best for your child. The following tips can help you navigate this complex process:
- Be realistic about your situation. If you have a high-stress job that requires you to travel regularly, you may not be able to handle the day-to-day logistics of sole custody, despite how much you want to make it work. By being honest about what you can and cannot do, your request will be taken more seriously.
- Stay involved in your child’s life. When deciding upon a custody agreement, the judge will look for evidence that you have a meaningful relationship with your child, including the following:
— Your child’s teachers know who you are.
— You help your child with his or her homework on a regular basis.
— You help coach your child’s sport’s team.
— You attend all school plays, birthday parties, and award ceremonies.
— You know who all of your child’s friends are, and they know you.
- Provide evidence of a stable home life. Show the judge that you are home for dinner every night when the children are with you, that you are available to pick the children up from school or other activities, and that the children will have a happy, healthy and stable home life when they are with you.
- Be flexible. Even the most effective parenting plans will require both parents to be flexible with the schedule. There are a number of unpredictable factors that can warrant an unexpected schedule change that is no one’s fault. For example, if your child gets sick and needs to be picked up from school, it will help your case if you are able to show the judge that you are available to pick your child up from school and handle an emergency.
- Demonstrate that you have a support network. As the saying goes, “it takes a village.” We all need a little bit of help every now and then. If you have family that is able to help out when needed, this will help your case. If your ex has family nearby that is willing to help, it is extremely important that you are also able to show that you also have a strong support system.
- You care about your child’s education. If you can demonstrate that you are committed to helping your child with his or her homework, securing a tutor if he or she needs extra help, and exposing them to a range of interesting and educational experiences, this will support your request for custody.
- Make a parenting plan. If awarded custody, the judge may expect you to have answers to some of the following questions:
— What is your financial status?
— What type of custody agreement are you seeking?
— Are you able to communicate with your ex-spouse productively and maturely?
— Are there any aspects of the current custody arrangement that are not working?
- Make child support payments. If you are petitioning for full custody, or a modification to the custody agreement, it is crucial that you are able to demonstrate a good track record when it comes to child support payments. Even if you feel that the custody agreement is unfair, this does not mean that you can stop making payments.
- Maintain a record of your visitation schedule. This shows how often you see your children under the current custody arrangement. It also demonstrates how reliable you are, and how committed you are to your children’s needs. Download a calendar or child custody app that includes time and date stamps. This can be used as valuable evidence in court and help you make a credible argument for custody.
- Make sure that your house feels like a home for your child. During a custody hearing, the judge will want to know that you have space for your child. Even if you live in a small space, the judge will want proof of the following:
— You are home when the children are with you.
— Your child has his or her own bed, and is not expected to sleep on a couch or an air mattress.
— Your home environment is safe and secure.
- Treat your ex-spouse respectfully. If you are unable to set aside your differences, and resort to arguing every time you see your ex, this could have a negative impact on your custody request. As difficult as it may be, make every effort to treat your ex with respect, particularly when you are having a discussion in front of the children.
- Consider your child’s wishes. Custody issues are difficult for everyone involved, including the children. However, decisions that have a direct impact on the children are often made without asking them what they want. This may not always be possible, particularly if the children are very young, but a judge may ask your kids what kind of custody arrangement they would want.
New Jersey Child Custody Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Assist Fathers with Custody Issues
If you are going through a divorce, and you are fighting for custody of your children, do not hesitate to contact our New Jersey child custody lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 908-575-9777 or contact us online.