CHILD CUSTODY IN NEW JERSEY
Contrary to popular opinion, and to what happens in other states, New Jersey does not distinguish between mothers and fathers when granting custody or child visitation to parents. The State of New Jersey does not believe that any parent, due to gender, has any advantage over another when it comes to parenting. Rather, NJ law looks at the "best interests of the child," and as a result, often finds that children benefit the most when they have deep, meaningful, long-lasting and frequent interaction with both parents.
Generally speaking, unless a parent is proven to be genuinely "unfit," New Jersey courts rarely award full legal custody to either parent. Instead, they opt for "shared" or "joint" legal custody. Here, the parents have equal access to the child's educational, health and insurance records, as well as equal rights and duties regarding the care, maintenance and support of the children. Even if a parent does not have physical custody of their child, if they have joint legal custody they still have many legitimate rights that the other parent cannot infringe upon, and which are enforceable in court.
Since most courts grant joint-legal custody to both divorcing parents, the real aim of the courts is the determination of physical custody, namely, the parent whose home will be the place of primary residence for the child, and whom the child will live with for a majority of the time. These are often the most emotional and hotly-contested determinations in Family Court, one where the majority of judge's and attorneys' time and effort is expended.
If the parents are unable to come to an amicable agreement regarding physical custody and/or parenting time, New Jersey courts will issue a Custody Order, based on an analysis of the facts in accordance with the 14 "best interest" factors laid out in N.J.S.A 9:2-4.
These "best interest factors" are as follows:
1. The parents' ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child;
2. The parents' willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse;
3. The interaction and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings;
4. The history of domestic violence, if any;
5. The safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent;
6. The preference of the child when of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision;
7. The needs of the child;
8. The stability of the home environment offered;
9. The quality and continuity of the child's education;
10. The fitness of the parents;
11. The geographical proximity of the parents' homes;
12. The extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to the separation;
13. The parents' employment responsibilities;
14. The age and number of the children.
When fighting for custody or greater visitation rights, its crucial that you address each of these factors. That said, it's important to note that New Jersey courts almost never revoke the parenting time of another, unless a strong case for unfitness can be made. Nine times out of ten, a Judge will award some form of joint custody and visitation. I constantly advise my clients that they hurt their ability to get a just and fair amount of parenting time if they try to engage in mudslinging, personal attacks, and attempts at character assassination in some misguided effort to get sole custody. Such attempts not only routinely fail, but they make you lose credibility with the judge and hurt your ability to argue important points on issues that do matter, such as increasing the amount of overnights you get, how much summer visitation you can enjoy with the kids, and how many non-overnight visits you can have with the child during the school-week. I often find that clients who aggressively go for the jugular tend to destroy their cases and credibility before the judge. The important thing is to be cordial, and work within the margins laid-out above.
My South Jersey Law Office regularly serves the NJ communities of Bellmawr, Runnemede, Deptford, Westville, Gloucester Township (Blackwood, Glendora, Erial, Sicklerville, Blenheim, Lambs Terrace, Chews Landing, and Hilltop) and Washington Township, (Turnersville, Sewell, Hurffville, Grenloch, CrossKeys, Bunker Hill and Chapel Heights).
If you live in these areas, or any other area of South Jersey and are fighting for child custody, child support, alimony, spousal support, parenting time or visitation, then contact my office immediately for a free consultation. I treat every client with extra-special care and go over the evidence and facts of their case, in-depth, so that no stone is unturned in their legal defense.
Call us for quality, compassionate, and individualized representation: 856-873-3730