Your divorce is finally over. You and your ex are rebuilding your lives and you while you can move on in most aspects, if you have children you’re still going to have to deal with your ex. So how do you do it without a constant argument and in a way that’s best for your child or children?
When children are involved, the relationship between the divorced parties never actually ends. It just transitions. You go from being co-partners to co-parents. Same people. New roles.
Situations can come up that could even cause you want to change your child custody agreement. Maybe you (or your ex) are thinking about moving to take advantage of a great job offer. Perhaps your ex has someone new in their life and you’re not entirely comfortable with him or her around your child. These are just the tips of the proverbial iceberg.
Situations that make custody an issue can and will arise even long after your divorce is finalized. It’s critical that you understand how to handle them.
What does New Jersey law say about changing child custody?
Your child custody and your parenting time plan is not set in stone post-divorce. It can be changed. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s simple or easy, and any change must be in your child’s best interests.
In New Jersey, one parent is often deemed the PPR (parent of primary residence) and the other the PAR (parent of alternate residence) which equates to who the children live with primarily versus who they spend less than half of their parenting time with.
These designations can help guide determinations to possible changes to the child custody agreement, but also are important in providing structure for co-parenting. Should you need to make a change the agreement the court is going to look into a number of issues – all of which center around what is best for the child or children.
Perhaps there’s issues with your child’s education and you want them to enroll in a different school. It could be a change in relationship status on the part of your ex (a boyfriend moves in, for instance) – particularly if the new relationship may have a negative influence or impact on your child. If your ex does not follow your parenting time agreement, or shows evidence of drug or alcohol abuse, or moves far away from you, these may also qualify.
Missing milestones or special events due to your parenting schedule after divorce is part of sharing custody of your children, and it is flat out hard to deal with. There are, however, things that can make dealing with child custody after a divorce easier and both parents should be fully onboard with implementing them in the way that best suits their family’s needs and dynamics.
What can and can’t be changed?
Almost any aspect of the child custody agreement can be changed with enough reason, including changing the custodial parent. Changing residential custody from one parent to the other can be incredibly challenging, so before you consider trying this you are well served to consult with a lawyer to review your situation.
Talking things over with your ex is the best route, and this is the route we recommend.
If you go to court, successfully convincing a judge to make changes to your agreement (or prior Order) requires one of two things:
- A signed stipulated modification between you and your ex that also upholds the child’s best interests.
- Strong evidence that the current situation is having a negative impact on the child or will have a negative impact on the child.
In both of these situations, the case must go before a judge who will have the ultimate say, even if you and your spouse have reached an agreement together. An experienced child custody attorney will not only help you navigate these confusing waters, but can also ensure the strongest case possible is presented if the current custody situation is harmful to your child.
Why You Should Make Co-Parenting Work
Co-parenting might not be the situation you wanted, but it is the one you have. If possible, you and your ex need to put aside animosity and differences in order to make things work.
Co-parenting is nothing more than the process of both parents remaining actively involved in a child’s life after a divorce. Evidence shows that having both parents being positively involved in their lives has a positive effect on the mental and emotional health of children. Of course, the opposite is true too – arguments and tension can be damaging to your child’s mental and emotional health.
So how do you work through those difficult emotions? It comes down to separating your relationship with your ex-spouse and the current child custody situation. If necessary, try to reframe the relationship – think of it as being brand new. Set aside any hurt and anger and try to begin a fresh chapter.
Another tip is to remember who you are doing this for. It’s not for your ex, and it’s not for you. It’s for your child, who deserves the happiest, most stable life possible. Working through your differences can help provide that.
Open communication is also essential. Keep things peaceful, respectful, and direct, even though that can be incredibly challenging at times. It may help to remember that the reason for the communication is to support your child’s well-being.
Finally, be prepared to make decisions together. You’re both parents and you both have a say in tough decisions, but that is easier to do when you can approach it with a team mentality.
Post-Divorce Child Custody
In the end, child custody is not a simple thing, even long after the divorce is finalized. You and your ex must work together, always keeping your child’s welfare at the forefront of your minds. Don’t let negative emotions and past hurts intrude, keep communication open, and always be upfront and honest with both your child and your ex-spouse.
Of course, there may come a time when modifying your child support agreement is necessary. If that time comes, it’s important to work with an experienced attorney you trust and our team at Keith Family Law is here to help.