Understanding New Jersey Child Custody Laws
How Does Child Custody In NJ Work?
While one of the last things a couple thinks about is separating, US News reported that in 2020, 6.5% of all New Jersey marriages ended in divorce. When a couple that has children together divorces, this adds the element of child custody - essentially, which parent maintains guardianship of the child or children. Usually, custody is shared between parents, but there are several factors that affect this.
In New Jersey family courts, judges take all of these factors into account before making a binding child custody ruling. The primary goal of any NJ child custody hearing is to ensure that the child gets to lead a healthy and happy life after the custody proceedings conclude. If a child is acclimatized to living a certain way, for example, and any disruption of this life circumstance will take a serious emotional toll on the child, then the family judge will likely rule in favor of an arrangement that supports continuing that way of life for the child. Depending on a child's age, the child’s preference or wish may also play an instrumental role in the court's decision and the custody hearing's outcome.
Laws Governing Child Custody in New Jersey
The laws that govern child custody in New Jersey are very similar to the child custody laws in most other states. The family court and judge will consider a multitude of factors prior to coming to a binding decision. These factors include those listed below, among many others depending on the unique set of circumstances surrounding the child custody hearing.
Factors Considered in New Jersey Child Custody Hearings
The needs of both parents and children
The siblings, if any, and their relationships with the child in question
The desires of the child and his or her primary caregiver(s)
The ability of each parent to provide for and support their child
Any history of domestic violence between the parents or prior abuse against any child involved in the case, including physical and emotional neglect
The emotional stability and financial resources of each parent
The ideal environment for the child to grow up in, including the location and school
Whether either parent has behaved in a way that would make it appropriate for him or her to have sole custody over the child
Hiring a competent legal team is critical in ensuring you and your child or children receive the most favorable outcome from the child custody hearing. The experienced team of NJ family law attorneys at Sanvenero & Cittadino provide several years of combined experience in family law, and they have favorably litigated dozens of child custody cases across the state of New Jersey.
Different cities and counties within New Jersey have slightly different rules, which is also something to keep in mind when seeking a legal team to work with. While an attorney with more experience and connections across the state may be a bit costlier in the beginning, doing so can yield a significantly better outcome at the conclusion of the custody hearing.
Types of Child Custody in NJ
Child custody is undoubtedly a complex and sensitive issue for New Jersey residents dealing with a divorce proceeding. Furthermore, the process is not as simple as just presenting arguments and facts in front of a judge and receiving a clear, fair judgment right away. Instead, the process can take weeks, or even months, and a plethora of factors are taken into consideration on behalf of both parental parties prior to any decision being made by the New Jersey family courts.
To complicate things further, there are several different types of child custody in New Jersey that could apply, depending on the specific circumstances.
The Best Interest of the Child
This type of custody is employed when the parents cannot agree on who will have custody or visitation rights. In this unfortunate situation, the presiding family court judge will decide who has the best interest of the child based on what he or she believes is in the child's best interest.
This type of custody is the most common, and it is also referred to as split or shared custody. In this instance, both parents share in the responsibilities and obligations associated with taking care of their child or children. A differentiating factor in this situation is location, as the parent with greater physical proximity to the child's existing living situation is designated as the primary custodian. and the other parent is designated as a secondary custodian. Even in this type of situation though, both parents still share equal responsibilities for raising the child or children.
Joint custody allows both parents to enjoy equal time with their child or children, but not every joint custody situation ends up being a completely equal split between parents. Joint custody can be either physical or legal, meaning one parent may have more rights than another based on the court's findings at the conclusion of the child custody hearing process.
This type of custody is granted only to one parent and grants total control over decisions related to the child's upbringing and welfare. The other parent may have visitation rights with the child in some cases, but the other parent will not possess any decision-making authority concerning the child's upbringing.
Shared Physical Custody or Joint Legal Custody
In this type of child custody arrangement, both parents share responsibilities for raising their child or children, including decisions such as where they will live, how they will be educated, what activities they will participate in, and more. Similar to the 'Joint Custody' arrangement, one parent may still act as primary custodian and make decisions on behalf of the whole family, but a major difference is that those decisions may not go against the wishes of any other members of the family.
The family court will decide the specific stipulations that apply in this type of custody arrangement to ensure the arrangement remains equitable for all parties. Under these custody circumstances, working closely with a team of experienced family law attorneys can provide resolve regarding any custodial disputes or disagreements that arise over time.
New Jersey Visitation Rights
Once the presiding NJ family court judge makes a decision regarding the custody arrangement, a decision may be made to grant what are called 'visitation rights', which apply to non-custodial parents.
These rights allow the non-custodial party to visit with the child or children regularly on an ongoing basis, as long as certain conditions are met. While the family courts in New Jersey will grant or deny these rights, they do not typically disallow parents from revising the visitation agreement on their own over time, as long as both parties are in agreement.
The court does typically dictate the regularity and timing associated with non-custodial parent visits though. For example, the visits may only occur during certain times of day on specified days of the week according to a schedule set forth by the court's order. In cases where the divorced parents are not agreeable to civil terms of visitation with each other, the visits may also be supervised by a third party, such as a relative or friend.
Child Custody in New Jersey - The Verdict
In summation, New Jersey family courts retain the power and authority to award sole or joint custody of a child to one parent, even if the other parent lives in the same household. In this situation, the non-custodial parent has no right to see their child unless they are invited by their custodial parent.
In some cases, married parents may agree that they will share joint physical custody. This means that they will share parenting responsibilities and both parents will be allowed visitation with their children.
In the simplest cases, courts have to look at how each parent plans to financially support the child or children. In more complex cases, deliberations can become very intense, and the final outcome is typically difficult to determine. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding your specific set of child custody proceedings in New Jersey, contacting and retaining a top NJ family law attorney will put you in the best possible position to reach a favorable agreement and positive outcome.
If you or someone you know is facing a child custody battle anywhere in the state of New Jersey, contact the family law experts at Sanvenero & Cittadino in Red Bank, New Jersey. Our experienced team of family lawyers will work together and fight tirelessly to advocate for your parental rights!