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Child Custody

Child Custody Attorney in New Jersey

Child custody disputes can come up both in a New Jersey divorce and in “FD” or non-dissolution cases where the parents of the child were never married. 


Types of Child Custody and Parenting Time Schedules


There are two types of child custody: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody refers to the time each parent spends with the child. 


The other type of custody, legal custody, refers to each parent’s right to make important decisions in the child’s life and to access important information about the welfare of the child. Important decisions can include choices about the child’s medical care, schooling, and religious upbringing. Important information about the child can include their medical records, school report cards, school attendance records, and other reports from doctors, therapists, instructors, or teachers attending to the child. 


Under New Jersey child custody law, the Court may award sole custody to one parent (known as the custodial parent) with appropriate parenting time provisions for the non-custodial parent. The Court may also award joint custody to both parents. Joint custody can include joint physical custody; joint legal custody; or both. 


Joint physical custody means that parents will collectively share physical custody or time with the child. 


Shared physical custody could look like a “week on/week off” schedule where the child spends one week with one parent and the next week with the other parent. It could also take the form of a “2-2-3” schedule where the child spends two weekdays with one parent; two weekdays with the other parent; and then alternates weekends with both parents. The exact parenting time schedule will depend on where the parents live in relation to one another; each party’s work obligations; and most importantly, the child’s best interests.


Joint legal custody means that both parents will equally share in the right to make important decisions for the child. The goal in joint legal custody situations is for both parents to mutually agree on major aspects of the child’s well-being - such as where they will attend school, what doctors they will see, and what medical decisions should be made on their behalf. 


If parents sharing legal custody cannot agree on a decision for their child, they can file a custody petition with the Court. To avoid the time and expense of a custody hearing, parents can also utilize forms of alternative dispute resolution in child custody cases – such as attending child custody mediation or voluntarily using a parenting coordinator.  


How is child custody determined?


Courts determine child custody arrangements based on a legal standard known as the “best interests of the child”. In deciding what custody arrangement would be in the child’s best interests, the Court will weigh a variety of statutory factors. These child custody factors are outlined in N.J.S.A. 9:2-4 and include:


  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 child’s preferences when the child is old enough and mature enough to articulate an intelligent preference as to custody;

  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


Notably, for child custody purposes, a parent is considered unfit only when their conduct has a “substantial adverse effect” on the child. For example, a parent with severe, untreated mental health or substance abuse issues may be deemed unfit if their actions have a detrimental impact on the child. 


Are child custody decisions always made by the Court?


Parents do not always need to use the Court system to determine child custody in New Jersey. Rather, parents can enter into child custody agreements and decide amongst themselves what custody arrangement works best for their family. Parents can arrive at custody agreements by having a conference with each of their family law attorneys present; by agreeing amongst themselves; or by attending child custody mediation. Indeed, in many New Jersey child custody cases, the Court will require the parties to attend parenting mediation in an attempt to resolve their differences out of Court. 


Can a Child Custody Order or Custody Agreement be Modified?


A child custody order or child custody agreement can be modified when there has been a change in circumstances affecting the best interests of the child. For example, a Court may change custody or visitation arrangements if the parents move a substantial distance away from one another; if the child begins school or attends a new school; if the needs of the child change; or if the parenting time schedule or visitation agreement no longer serves the child’s best interests. 


Parents can modify a child custody schedule either by mutual agreement or by filing a modification petition with the Court. 

Child Visitation Lawyer

In summary, family law matters involving child custody can be complicated and emotionally charged. A law firm with experience in child custody disputes can help you navigate the legal process and can help protect you and your child’s best interests. An experienced attorney versed in the New Jersey child custody system will work with you, strategizing on how best to achieve your goals and garner the best outcome for you and your family. 


Schedule a free child custody consultation with Ormond Law today and start to see how a child custody lawyer near you can help you achieve a better, more peaceful future for you and your loved ones.  

More on Child Custody

Here, we will cover the process for requesting a modification to a child custody arrangement in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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