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Child Custody and Parenting Time

child custodyWhen a married couple divorces, their children will be impacted. A divorce can be friendly, acrimonious, or somewhere in between, but the children’s needs should always be put first. State laws and the best interests of the children will help determine child custody and parenting time.

Do I Have to Be Married to File for Child Custody?

In New Jersey, you do not have to be married to file for child custody. The courts do not discriminate between married and unmarried parents regarding custody agreements. The courts classify these cases as non-dissolution matters. Parents who are not married and desire to establish paternity, child custody, child support, and alimony may file. Grandparents are also permitted to file for custody, visitation rights, and child support.

If a couple is not married, the legal father has to be named in the court papers. This way, both parties are legally responsible for supporting the children. If child support is being requested from the father, paternity must be legally established. Non-dissolution cases can be tricky because of how the laws work and the need to have proof. Having a lawyer is recommended for these types of cases.

What Are the Different Types of Child Custody?

In New Jersey, there are four main types of child custody arrangements:

  • Legal custody: With legal custody, the parent has authority to make important decisions that impact the child’s life, including health care and education. Examples include decisions related to a child’s medical procedure or where they will be attending school. Minor decisions that apply to daily life are usually decided by the parent who has the child at that time.
  • Physical custody: Physical custody refers to whom the child will be living with after the divorce, as well as the physical residence.
  • Joint custody: Joint custody is when parenting time is shared. A child could live with the father and then stay with the mother on weekends. Another option could be for the child to live with the mother during the school year and live with the father in the summer.
  • Sole custody: If there is sole custody, only one parent participates in the custody arrangement.

In New Jersey, parents can opt for sole or joint legal custody. With sole legal custody, only one parent has authority to make major decisions. For joint legal custody, the parents agree together on which school the child will attend, the child’s religion, medical procedures, and other important decisions.

Sole physical custody means that the child will only live with one of the parents but can visit with the other. Visitation times are either agreed upon by the parents or determined by a judge. With joint physical custody, the child’s time can be split up between the two parents. To do this, parents often come up with a schedule that they can both follow.

New Jersey courts favor joint legal and joint physical custody, as these allow children to have relationships with both parents.

How Are Child Custody Arrangements Decided?

Some parents are deemed to be unfit. Courts will want to know if a parent has a history of alcohol or drug abuse or a history of domestic violence. Other factors that come into play include one parent being the child’s primary caretaker for most of the child’s life and any siblings who are in the family.

Another major roadblock can occur if a parent needs to relocate far away or to another state. Courts must decide whether or not the relocating parents can move with the children based only on the best interests of the children. They will review some important factors, such as: 

  • Parents’ ability to agree, communicate, and cooperate in matters relating to the child.
  • Parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse.
  • Interaction and relationship of the child with their parents and siblings.
  • Any history of domestic violence.
  • Safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent.
  • Preference of the child, if of age, and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision.
  • Needs of the child.
  • Stability of the home environment offered.
  • Quality and continuity of the child’s education.
  • Fitness of the parents.
  • Geographical proximity of the parents’ homes.
  • Extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to the separation.
  • Parents’ employment responsibilities.
  • Age and number of children.

This list of factors is not exhaustive, but the litmus test is always the best interest of the children.

Does My Child Have a Say in the Custody Arrangement?

Courts might consider the child’s preference as long as they are old enough to reason and form intelligent decisions. In New Jersey, a child has to be 12 years old or older for their wishes to be considered. Even if the child makes a strong case for one of the parents, the judge still makes the final decision based on the child’s best interests. Children must wait until they are 18 years old to choose where they want to reside.

What if Parents Cannot Agree on a Custody Arrangement?

Coming to an agreement about custody and parenting time can be challenging. When both parties are at odds, courts can order them to participate in mediation. An objective mediator can help the parents work out their differences, and they can find a solution that is acceptable by both of them. 

A custody evaluation may also be ordered by a court. This is managed by mental health professionals who speak with the couple as well as the children. They assess the circumstances and provide non-binding recommendations to the court regarding custody and parenting times that will be the most beneficial to the children.

The Family Division can also carry out investigations. These inquiries delve into both parents’ characters and fitness, their homes and safety precautions, and how many people live there and what their relationships are to the children. The Family Division will also look into the family’s economic condition and will do criminal background checks on both parents.

How Can I Make the Process Go Smoothly?

The child custody process does take time, and this can be extraordinarily stressful on the parents and children. It is best to avoid posting anything about your divorce or child custody arrangement online. Another piece of advice is to avoid arguing in front of the children. Cooperating with your ex-partner can be quite difficult, but if you keep your children’s best interests at heart, the process will go more smoothly.

How Can a Lawyer Help Me With a Child Custody Arrangement?

An experienced lawyer may be able to provide valuable help when important issues about custody and parenting rights cannot be ironed out between you and your ex-partner. A lawyer can help you settle on or modify custody and visitation orders, sole and joint legal and physical custody arrangements, and even grandparent visitation issues. They can also step in if a parent violates a visitation plan, makes an unapproved change, or interferes with the other parent’s custody schedule.

A lawyer can also provide legal guidance when one parent moves to another state. A lawyer understands how jurisdictional boundaries impact custody cases and how laws in different states apply. 

South Jersey Child Custody Lawyers at Goldstein & Mignogna, P.A. Help Divorcing Parents Smooth Out Child Custody Issues

When you are going through a divorce, you want to ensure that your children will be safe and protected. Our compassionate South Jersey child custody lawyers at Goldstein & Mignogna, P.A. understand your concerns, and we can help you figure out an arrangement. Call us at 856-890-9400 or complete our online form to schedule an initial consultation today. We are located in Marlton, New Jersey, and we proudly serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Burlington County, Camden County, and Gloucester County.