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4 Key Facts Parents Should Know about Child Custody Laws

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When our New Jersey child custody attorneys represent parents in divorce cases, they are typically concerned about how the divorce process will impact their parent-child relationship, as well as the effect of the divorce process on their children.  Admittedly, divorce can be a challenging time for children because of the enormous amount of change that accompanies the divorce process and the fear of losing the child’s relationship with a parent.  Our experienced New Jersey child custody lawyers are frequently able to guide our clients past the animosity and conflict that can derail a mutually beneficial custody and parenting time arrangement.  Because we receive many questions about custody issues in a New Jersey divorce, we have provided answers to some common questions:

What is the difference between physical and legal custody laws in New Jersey?

Legal Custody

This term refers to the authority and responsibility to make important decisions regarding your child.  These decisions involve issues like education, health care, religious training and other important decisions.  New Jersey divorce courts typically award joint legal custody so that both parents have input on these keys issues regarding their children.

Physical Custody

This term refers to where the child lives, which is determined based on the “best interest of the child standard” when the parents cannot agree on a timeshare arrangement.  Sometimes there will be a “custodial parent” with whom the child will live while visiting the other parent while in other situations the timesharing arrangement may be close to equal.

What factors are considered by a New Jersey court under the best interest of the child standard?

Family law judges in New Jersey consider a range of factors when determining a custody arrangement that will be in the best interest of the child.  These factors are enumerated in N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c) and generally include:

  • Each parent’s ability to communicate and cooperate
  • Cooperation with the other parent’s custody/visitation time
  • False allegations of abuse
  • Interactions between minor children, parents and siblings
  • Prior domestic violence
  • Risk of physical abuse
  • Child’s preference (based on age and maturity)
  • Child’s needs
  • Stability of home environment
  • Impact on child’s education
  • Parental fitness
  • Distance between the parents’ homes
  • Quality and quantity of time spent with the child
  • Age and number of children
  • Parent’s employment responsibilities

While there is no formula for how these factors are waited, courts will look closely at questions of parental fitness.  If a case involves substance abuse, domestic violence, parental neglect and/ or abuse or other issues that raise serious concerns about parental fitness, this will weigh in the direction of the other parent being determined to be the custodial parent.  If both parents are fit, parents who are supportive of the other parent’s custodial time and spend substantial time as a caregiver may have an advantage in a custody dispute.

How much impact does a job with long hours or time away from home have on a court’s decision?

This is an important and often misunderstood factor in child custody schedules cases.  While parents may work long hours to financially support their children, courts will favor placing a child with an available parent over a third party.  As a practical matter, a stay at home parent will have a substantial advantage in a custody dispute over a parent who works long hours or frequently travels for business.  Even if the parent who works long hours can offer to have the child stay with a grandparent, the court will usually opt to have the child spend that time with an available parent.

Will the divorce be emotionally harmful to my children?

There is no question that divorce can be emotionally challenging for children because of the lack of stability and major changes, including less time with each parent, impact on contact with extended family, school relocation and other transitions that may occur when a relationship is dissolved.  However, parents that can work constructively to fashion a positive co-parenting relationship can significantly limit any negative impact.  The more cordial and supportive each parent can be toward the other parent the better the outcome for children in most cases.  Our New Jersey child custody attorneys work diligently to construct positive stable custody arrangements while diffusing animosity when possible.

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