Parting ways with a significant other when you’re both parents of a child means that a child custody agreement must be designed. This agreement will determine how custody is divided and will likely also determine child support and the requirements for making decisions for the child. This process can be emotionally trying, but at all times the court looks to do what is in the best interest of the child. 

In order to help make it more manageable, it’s important to understand the child custody laws in New Jersey, including the legal issues and what they mean for you and your family.

Types of Custody in New Jersey

In New Jersey there are different types of custody arrangements. One of the most common types of custody we see is joint legal custody, the option most judges are to decide upon unless there is significant reason to do otherwise. Joint legal custody means that both parents share all decision making responsibilities relating to the child. This means if a child needs significant medical care, such as braces or allergy shots, both parents have a say in the decision. 

The same concept applies to approving a trip or even sending the child to a private or religious school. With joint legal custody, one parent typical maintains primary physical custody of the child, meaning the child spends most of their time with one parent while the other parent has visitation rights. The court can mandate how much time the parent is entitled to or this can be agreed upon by the parents. 

Another option is shared physical custody, which often accompanies joint legal custody. In cases with shared physical custody, the child stays with each parent equally. Sometimes, this means the child stays in one house while the parents change residences to make way for the other’s parenting time. Other times, the child moves from house to house either splitting time during the week or splitting time for several weeks at a time.

Another custody option is sole legal custody, but this type of custody is rarely awarded. One parent must be deemed unfit for sole custody to be awarded to the other, whether due to incarceration, substance abuse or similar circumstances. This type of custody gives one parent all decision making abilities and sole physical custody as well. 

How Child Custody is Determined in NJ

Child custody laws in New Jersey state child custody is determined by what is in the best interests of the child. There are several factors that determine the child’s best interest and common issues the court will take into consideration include:

  • How the parents communicate with one another
  • How they communicate with the child
  • The child’s ability to continue at the same school
  • Child’s preference, if they are over 12
  • How the child gets along with siblings or step-siblings and half-siblings
  • How the child gets along with potential step parents

Another important factor relating to child custody laws in New Jersey is that both parents are considered equal. That means that the court cannot provide more custodial rights to the mother over the father simply because she is the mother. Both mother and father are considered capable of sharing or maintaining custody of a child, until evidence shows otherwise.

Visitation Rights

We cannot discuss child custody agreements without discussing visitation rights in New Jersey. Visitation agreements are key in making sure that each parent is provided parenting time with a child, even if the parent does not have primary physical custody. 

Visitation can’t be denied due to lack of child support payments or to persuade a non-custodial parent to give up something or bend in a negotiation. However, there are instances wherein visitation may be limited or not available at all. If it can be proved that a child is in danger when visiting with the non-custodial parent, then visitation may become limited or supervised. If the non-custodial parent has been convicted of any child predatory behavior, visitation can be denied. Additionally, a child cannot be forced to visit with a non-custodial parent. However, the non-custodial parent may have legal recourse if the child is refusing to participate in visitation.

Unless any of these circumstances are involved, child visitation is usually determined in the child custody agreement or divorce agreement. It commonly consists of every other weekend and maybe one day during the week. However, each family can make their own variations of how visitation is established.

Child Support in Relation to Child Custody

Child support is tied into child custody, as the amount of custody time of the child can impact the costs associated with their care. Child support helps support a child in the manner in which her or she would be supported if both parents were raising the child together. If parents share joint custody, but not physical custody, the parent with physical custody of the child will likely be awarded child support. 

However, if there is shared physical custody, this does not mean that no one receives child support. The courts may still award support based on who may have a bit more parenting time or other considerations, such as who handles medical issues and appointments for the child. At the very least, the courts will often require parents to split the child’s expenses.

If you are in the process of divorce or separation and need help understanding and determining child custody laws in New Jersey, contact the attorneys at Keith Family Law. Our lawyers will take the time to sit with you and help you through the process.