What Every Dad in New Jersey Facing Divorce Needs to Know

Fathers Get CustodyPerhaps the question I am asked most-often by men beginning the divorce process is “What will happen to my kids, and how can I be sure I will be able see them regularly, or even get custody?”

It’s a powerful, poignant and pain-filled question, one that I always take plenty of time to answer carefully and as thoroughly as possible. Just because a man is divorcing a wife he doesn’t love anymore does not mean that you love your children any less.

There is no simple response.

Family law judges are required to put the what is in best interests of the children above all else. Traditionally, this has meant giving the mother primary custody because, for decades, she was more likely not to work and could be at home with the kids. Fathers were granted specific visitation rights. But like so much else in our society, this once-hard and fast “rule” is shifting because today most women also have jobs and careers.

When both parents work, who is the primary care giver?

Guidelines

Many years ago, there was a cartoon in the old Saturday Evening Post showing a couple in front of a startled-looking judge who’s asking them in bewilderment, “Neither one of you want custody of the children?!?”

As a practical matter, typically mothers want custody even if fathers argue they should be the custodial parent. Fortunately for dads, the court is becoming more even-handed in deciding with which parent the children should live. Ideally you and your ex-spouse will decide this on your own rather than waiting for a judge to make it for you.

The law governing custodial and visitation rights direct judges to take more than a dozen factors into account, ranging from the parent’s ability to communicate and cooperate in how the children are raised, and the age and number of kids, to whether there is a history of domestic violence, drinking or drug use, and who did it.

Today, except when children are very young, the court also looks at the preference of the kids as well, and judges don’t hesitate to ask them what they want.

Dads and Kids

As New Jersey family and divorce lawyers, part of our job is to work with you to understand what role you want to play in the ongoing lives of your children. For dads who travel on business a great deal, it may not be practical to seek full custody. But when a father is seldom out of town and wants to be granted the role of custodial parent, we work hard to help you achieve that goal.

Assuming there aren’t issues involving abuse, violence or neglect in the marital home, it becomes a matter of negotiating with your former spouse to ensure that your desires – as well as those of your children – are incorporated in the final agreement.

For example, we worked once with a father who wanted us to fight for sole custody. But in talking with him, it soon became apparent to me that he really wanted to “punish” his ex. Because courts won’t let children become a ping-pong game in a divorce, we ended up showing him that joint custody was the best solution.

In negotiating with the wife’s attorneys, we agreed on a schedule that had the kids living two weeks with the father, two with the mother. Both parents decided to live close to one another so the kids would attend the same schools and be involved in the same community sports and other events. Decisions about things such as who they’d spend holidays with, schooling, medical care and class trips would be made together.

Aggressive When Necessary

But sometimes, agreement cannot be reached before a trial and custody is left to a judge to decide. All things being equal, we argue aggressively on behalf of a father to be named the custodial parent. There is a growing body of decisions where judges have agreed with this position for a variety of reasons and so we’re not bashful about pointing this out in filings and oral arguments.

The fact is that fathers going through a divorce need to have their desires and long-term goals strongly represented, whether in the mandated settlement conference or at trial. Because we focus our work on men and their divorce, our goals are aligned with yours – and the best interests of your children.

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