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Custody laws in New Jersey do change periodically.  It is important to continue to review your parenting plan and custody arrangement on a regular basis in order to be sure that you take advantage of any changes that may positively affect you.  There have been limited changes to New Jersey custody law over the past year, but one change does relate to the process by which a custodial parent can change the last name of children of the divorced couple.

Custody cases usually revolve around physical custody rather than legal custody.  Custody is the legal designation concerning the rights of each parent and the obligation that they share toward the children of the relationship once they are not longer residing together as a family unit.  Each parent has a right to share in the upbringing of his or her children.  Unless there are serious concerns about potential harm, the judge will ensure that both parents have the opportunity for an ongoing relationship with the children.  When determining custody matters, the best interest of the child is the standard that the Family Court applies to the determination of whether full or shared custody will be awarded.  Although mothers were presumed to be the better caretaker in previous years, that presumption no longer exists.

Often, the judge will award joint legal custody, which means that the parents have to decide important matters concerning the child together.  This includes what school the child will attend and the religious studies they will include.  Joint legal custody can exist where the parents share the decisions and the child lives with one parent and has visitation with the other or where there is joint legal and physical custody.  Courts provide the opportunity to participate in mediation when the parents cannot reach decisions about the children on their own.

Changing the custody order requires a showing that circumstances affecting the parents and children have changed considerably.  This policy is in place because New Jersey courts do not want disruption of the children’s routines if it can be avoided.

A significant change in custody law occurred in August 2013, when the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that in a situation where the parents share joint legal custody, the Family Court must consider the best interests of the child when determining whether or not to permit a change in the child’s last name upon the request of one parent.  The Supreme Court determined that each parent had equal consideration in this matter.  Previously, the parent with primary physical custody of the child had more of an influence in whether or not the surname would be changed.

In making the decision of whether to allow the name change, the court must apply the fact-based “best interest” analysis, which may include reviewing how long the child has had his or her last name and whether a name change might lead to anxiety or distress.  This ruling gives more input to the parent who does not have primary custody and represents a positive step for the rights of noncustodial parents.

The Micklin Law Group, LLC Fights for Parent’s Rights in Custody Disputes

When a married couple goes through a divorce, the children are significantly affected and parents must adjust to the challenges of shared custody or visitation, even in the most amicable of separations.  It is important to have a skilled and dedicated New Jersey divorce and custody attorney advocating zealously on your behalf to ensure that you have a meaningful relationship with your children after the divorce.  The Micklin Law Group, LLC is committed to fighting to preserve your relationship with your children.  To schedule an appointment to discuss your case, please call (973) 562-0100.

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