Divorce isn’t easy on anyone but it can be especially difficult for young children who may not be able to fully understand what is going on and why daddy is not around all of the time like he used to be. Yet a growing number of fathers want to be named the custodial parent of their children or at least be designated as a co-parent with the mother and have joint custody.
It used to be very difficult for a dad to get a judge to agree to this.
But over the past few years, the courts have become much more open to not just considering a dad’s wishes but to ensure that he can remain active and involved in the lives of their kids. After all, New Jersey law dictates that court decisions must be in the best interests of the children. For another, psychologists have determined that children thrive best if both parents are part of everything the youngsters do as they grow up, from school to extracurricular activities and having special times with each parent – even if the parents can barely tolerate being around each other.
For a father who wants to be named the custodial parent, a co-parent or to have joint custody of the children, the question becomes what criteria will a judge weigh in deciding?
Essentials for a Divorcing Father in New Jersey to Remember
Beyond “the best interests of the children” criteria enshrined in family law statutes, here are three important things for a dad to remember when going through the divorce process and seeking full or joint custody, or to be named a co-parent of his children.
Sole Legal Custody – This is difficult to obtain. In order to persuade a judge to make the father the sole legal custodian of his children, we need to prove that the mother is unfit or that she is unavailable to help make decisions regarding the kids. It is highly unusual for a judge to name either parent as sole legal custodian and we would need to demonstrate to the court’s satisfaction that the mother, for instance, has substance or alcohol abuse problems, is physically or emotionally abusive towards the children, is incarcerated or has a history of being in trouble with the law, or that she lives so far away as to make her involvement in decision-making impractical.
Sole Physical Custody – Again, to prove that the father should be named the sole custodial parent, we would have to demonstrate that the mother is unfit in some way. Mothers tend to be given sole custody when there is a dispute because she is likely to have an easier time proving that it’s in the children’s best interests to be with her. If the kids are very young, the court is likely to consider the “tender years” factor which maintains that they’ll be best off with the mother. However, with older children – especially teenagers – the judge is likely to ask them which parent they want to live with and take their desires into account in reaching a decision.
Joint Custody – For many New Jersey fathers who want custody, this can be the most-effective strategy when we negotiate the details of the divorce with your ex’s attorney. Joint custody means that both parents share in making decisions about the children and, most-often, the kids spend an equal amount of time with each parent. The court is delighted when a couple can agree upon custody and visitation schedules because, many times, it reduces the need for hearings and a judge’s involvement in a final decision.
Co-Parenting – There are divorces where joint custody is impractical, particularly these days when both parents may have a career or own a business and one may be required to travel a good deal for their work. So, when co-parenting is agreed upon or ordered, one parent has physical custody of the children most of the time but both parents share in decision-making for things such as education, medical care, religious upbringing if any, and dealing with any special needs a child may have.
Providing Help on Complex Custody Issues for New Jersey Fathers Getting a Divorce
Negotiating a custody and visitation agreement with an ex can be difficult even in an amicable divorce. As family law attorneys who focus our practice on men and fathers in New Jersey who are getting a divorce, we will be happy to answer any of your questions. And if you are having custody or other issues in your divorce, you’re welcome to join our support group and you don’t need to be a client to participate. Feel free to call me at either 973.562.0100 in Nutley or, in Montclair, at 862.245.4620.