New Jersey Family Law and Divorce Lawyers
Parenting Time and Visitation
Issues surrounding children are some of the most important and emotionally challenging aspects of divorce or separation. With so much at stake, these issues have the potential to become highly contentious, thereby increasing the stress and anxiety for parents and children. At Lyons & Associates, our child custody lawyers strive to minimize the emotional impact of divorce on children by focusing on their needs first and foremost. We take the time to get to know our clients as we work together to draft a parenting plan that is specifically tailored to their family’s unique needs and circumstances.
Types of Custody
In New Jersey, two distinct aspects define child custody: legal custody, and physical custody. Legal custody refers to each parent’s authority to make important decisions for the child such as where the child will attend school, involvement in religious activities, and major medical decisions. Most parents are granted joint legal custody. In this situation, the parent with whom the child resides usually makes the decisions for the majority of the child’s day-to-day activities, but consults with the other parent for important decisions. Sole legal custody is typically only granted if one parent is unavailable or determined by the court to be unfit.
Physical custody, also called “residential custody,” is defined as either sole physical custody or shared physical custody. The parent who has more time with the child is designated as the parent of primary residence. In a sole custody arrangement, the child spends most of his or her time with one parent, and less than two nights per week with the other parent, with some exceptions for vacations and holidays.
In a shared custody arrangement, the child spends more than half of their time with one parent, is also referred to as the “parent of primary residence” and more than two nights per week with the other, or “parent of alternate residence.” Shared custody agreements tend to be more complicated than sole custody arrangements because the amount of time that the child spends with each parent can affect child support awards as well as the child’s legal residence for school. Due to this, shared custody agreements should always be prepared by an experienced child custody lawyer in New Jersey.
Parenting Time Schedules
New Jersey courts recognize the important role parents play in the lives of their children. Accordingly, the term “parenting time”, which emphasizes the quality, not just the quantity, is generally used in favor of the generic “visitation.” Under most circumstances, children fare better emotionally and developmentally when they have a positive and balanced relationship with both of their parents. Exceptions to this include situations where there has been a history of child abuse or neglect, domestic violence, or substance abuse.
Whenever possible, parents should try to put their own conflicts aside and work together to form an agreement. In situations where parents cannot agree, the courts may intervene to establish a parenting plan that takes into account the best interests of the child. Factors considered include:
- Distance between parents’ residences
- Parents’ work schedules and ability to travel
- The child’s relationship with extended family members
- The history of quality time each parent has spent with the children
- Child’s involvement in sports and other extracurricular activities
- Any special needs of the child
- History of abuse or neglect
- Stability of each parent’s home environment
- Each parent’s willingness to include the other parent in the child’s life
Parenting arrangements should be as detailed as possible, including specific times for pick up and drop off. An experienced family law attorney can help parents construct a fair and reasonable arrangement with provisions for:
- Special occasions
- Winter break and spring break
- Summer vacation
- Visits with grandparents and other extended family members
- Access to school and medical records
Changes to Parenting Agreements
Over time, family circumstances can change as such that the original parenting time arrangement no longer suits the child’s needs or parents’ abilities. This may be due to a change in parents’ work responsibilities, the child’s activity schedule, failure of one parent to abide by the previous order, or a change of residence. If this is the case, either parent is entitled to request a modification of the parenting time agreement. In some cases, a parent may request a change on behalf of the child who wishes to spend more time with one parent. Because parenting time can affect child support payments, modification requests are usually decided on at the same time.
New Jersey Family Law and Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Help Draft, Review, and Enforce Parenting Plans
New Jersey child custody lawyers at Lyons & Associates understand that every family is unique. Our experienced and compassionate family law attorneys are committed to serving your child’s best interests while respecting your rights as a parent. For answers to questions about child custody in New Jersey, or for help creating or modifying a parenting agreement, schedule a consultation by calling 908-575-9777 or submit an online contact form. Our offices are located in Somerville, New Jersey, where we serve clients throughout the state, including those in Somerville, Bridgewater, Somerset, Basking Ridge, and Mendham, as well as those in Somerset County, Morris County, and Union County.