When separating as an unmarried parent, the process can be very similar to going through a divorce. This is especially true with regard to child-related issues (i.e., child support and child custody).
In Part 1 of our Guide to Separation for Unmarried Parents in New Jersey, we discussed the legal mechanism for getting separated, establishing paternity and calculating child support. Here in Part 2, we cover child custody (establishing a parenting plan) and dealing with conflict.
Establishing a Post-Separation Parenting Plan
Establishing custody is a necessary part of the separation process for unmarried parents. All parents in New Jersey have the right and obligation to help raise their children, with only very limited exceptions for circumstances such as those involving abuse in the home or an incarcerated parent.
When establishing custody during a separation, unmarried parents must work to develop a mutually-agreeable parenting plan. This plan will establish the terms of physical and legal custody, and, in doing so, it must serve the “best interests” of the children involved.
Under New Jersey law, several factors must be considered when determining what is in a child’s best interests. Some examples of these factors include:
- The parents’ willingness to accept custody and/or allow visitation
- The parents’ ability and willingness to cooperate with regard to child-related matters
- The children’s previous interactions with their parents and siblings (if any)
- The children’s preferences, if they are of sufficient age to make an informed decision
- The children’s needs and the parents’ respective abilities to provide a stable home environment
In most cases, it will be in everyone’s best interests for separating parents to find a way to come to terms. If this is not possible given the circumstances of the separation, the parents will need to go to court to establish custody.
Awards of sole custody are relatively rare (and limited to exceptional circumstances, as referenced above). However, shared custody (involving roughly equal parenting time) is becoming more common, and co-parenting has recently grown in popularity as well. Whichever option you and your children’s other parent wish to pursue, the key will be to make informed decisions that take your respective needs and preferences into account while still keeping the primary focus on serving your children’s best interests.
Dealing With Conflict During and After the Separation Process
At some point during or after your separation, you may find yourself in conflict with your children’s other parent. If this happens, you will have a few options available—with your specific options depending on the particular circumstances involved. For example, mediation and collaborative law are effective tools for resolving disputes during the separation process, while New Jersey law allows for the judicial modification and enforcement of child custody and child support orders when necessary.
Schedule a Confidential Initial Consultation at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A.
If you are contemplating separation and would like more information about the legal issues involved, we invite you to schedule an initial consultation at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A. To speak with one of our experienced New Jersey family law attorneys in confidence, please call 877-435-6371 or inquire online today.