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Family Law: Child Custody

New Jersey Child Custody Attorneys

New Jersey child custody laws protect the welfare of the child. Under child custody laws, the Family Courts have jurisdiction over child custody cases. Either joint or sole custody can be awarded to the parent(s), and the primary guideline is the best interests of the child. The court may award one of three types of custody arrangements: joint legal custody to both parents, where one parent is responsible for residential custody; joint physical custody, where both parents provide homes for the child; or sole custody to one parent with parenting time allowed to the non-custodial parent.

In awarding joint legal custody, the judge allows both parents to share responsibilities for decisions regarding the health, education and welfare of the child. Physical, or residential, custody includes legal custody, but also specifies that the child live in the residence of one of the parents with scheduled parenting time with the other parent.

How Are Child Custody Rights Established in a New Jersey Divorce?

In determining what custody arrangement works best for the child and the parents, the court considers all the relevant facts such as parent-child relationship, including the ages of the children and the number of children, the stability of the home, the parents' fitness, and how much time each parent spent with the child before the separation. While New Jersey courts may favor the parent who provided primary care, if the child demonstrates appropriate maturity, his or her desires are taken into consideration.

Custody is a very emotional issue for many clients and can often be the most contentious issue between two parties.

In New Jersey, each parent has an equal right to custody of his/her child(ren).  Often times, Courts will award joint legal custody of the child(ren) to both parties. Yet the Court will award only one parent as the parent of primary residence (i.e. parent with whom children reside the majority of the time) and the other parent will receive parenting time.

The Court makes a determination of child custody based on a variety of statutory factors but the ultimate concern for the Court is the “best interest of the child”.  These factors include:

  • Parents' ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in child-related matters;
  • Parents' willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow visitation not based on substantiated abuse;
  • Interactions and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings;
  • History of domestic violence, if any;
  • Safety of child and safety of either parent from physical abuse by other parent;
  • Preference of child, when of sufficient age and capacity to reason, so as to form an intelligent decision;
  • Needs of child;
  • Stability of home environment offered by each parent;
  • Quality and continuity of child's education;
  • Fitness of parents;
  • Geographic proximity of parents' homes;
  • Extent and quality of time spent with a child prior to and subsequent to separation;
  • Parents' employment responsibilities; and
  • Number and ages of children.

The family law lawyers at Helmer, Conley, & Kasselman, PA, are experienced in working with parents to obtain the best possible custody situation for their children. If you have children and are preparing to go through a divorce, our New Jersey child custody lawyer can help you understand how the “best interest” factors apply to your situation, and we can help you build a strategy for securing the parenting rights you desire.

Three Common Options for Establishing Joint Custody in New Jersey

When it comes to establishing joint custody in New Jersey, there are a variety of options available. At Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A., our New Jersey child custody attorneys routinely assist divorcing and separating parents with establishing joint custody arrangements including:

  1. Primary Custody with Parenting Time

The first option commonly used is for one parent to have primary custody while the other has “parenting time”. The children will live with their primary custodian the majority of the time (the primary custodian’s residence will be their “home base”), and they will have regularly-scheduled parenting time with their other parent. The frequency and duration of these visits can range from every other weekend to multiple specified days per week.

  1. Equal Joint Custody

Another option that is becoming increasingly common is for parents to share equal joint custody. As the name implies, both parents spend the same amount of time (or roughly the same amount of time) with their children with this option. This option requires enhanced cooperation and coordination compared to more-traditional custody-and-visitation arrangements. Still, in many cases, it will prove to be in the best interests of the couple’s children.

  1. Co-Parenting Arrangements

A third option that has also become more popular in recent years is co-parenting. With co-parenting, divorced or separated parents continue to jointly participate in their children’s lives legally and physically. This option requires an even higher level of cooperation and coordination, and the parents must develop a comprehensive co-parenting plan during their divorce or separation. As you might expect, co-parenting is not right for everyone, and it requires a significant amount of flexibility and compromise both initially and on an ongoing basis.

What is PPR and PAR in custody issues? PPR stands for Parent of Primary Residence, and PAR stands for Parent of Alternative Residence. The parent who have the child(ren) the majority of the week overnight will be designated the PPR and the other parent the PAR.

How important are the designations PPR and PAR? The Parent of Primary Residence (PPR) will be responsible for every day decisions for the child(ren), and the Parent of Alternative Residence (PAR) will normally only be involved in the major Health, Welfare, and Safety decisions for the child(ren).

Do some school districts require one parent to be designated the PPR for school purposes especially when the parents reside in separate Counties? Yes, some school districts can require one parent be designated as the PPR for school purposes, and even with a true Joint Legal and Physical custody arrangement the parties can enter into a Consent Order designating one parent as the PPR for school purposes only, which will allow the child(ren) to go to that parents’ school district.

An Important Distinction: Physical vs. Legal Custody

When discussing joint custody, it is essential to distinguish between the concepts of “physical custody” and “legal custody.” Physical custody refers to providing the child’s home and tending to his or her day-to-day needs, while legal custody refers to the right to make important life decisions on the child’s behalf.

Although physical and legal custody rights will often go hand-in-hand, this does not necessarily have to be the case. For example, in some circumstances, it may make sense for one parent to have primary physical custody while both parents share equal legal custody rights.

What is the difference between LEGAL and PYSICAL Custody? Legal custody in the majority of cases will be joint allowing both parents to consult and agree on the major Health Welfare and Safety issues for their child(ren). Physical custody is where the child(ren) will physically reside with their parents. It can be a joint arrangement with equal time at both parents’ residences, or one party may have the children more overnights especially during the school week.

Is Sole Custody an Option in New Jersey?

From a purely legal perspective, yes, sole custody is an option in New Jersey. The New Jersey statutes include sole custody provisions, and the New Jersey courts will award sole custody to parents in appropriate circumstances. However, this does not mean that sole custody is an option in every divorce or separation.

In all child custody matters, the New Jersey statutes and courts require decisions to be made based upon the best interests of the children involved. In the vast majority of cases, this means ensuring that the children will continue to spend time with both of their parents. Research studies have proven the importance of both parents’ involvement in children’s cognitive and psychological development, and, as a result, New Jersey law favors joint custody in most cases.

When Can a Parent Seek Sole Custody During a Divorce or Separation?

With this in mind, when can a parent seek sole custody during a divorce or separation in New Jersey? In short, the parent seeking sole custody must be able to prove that spending time with both parents would not be in the children’s best interests. Circumstances in which this might be the case include those involving:

  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Domestic violence or child abuse
  • Issues with Anger and Anger management
  • Incarceration
  • Mental health disorders
  • Unavailability
  • Other factors that present a potential physical or mental health risk to the child

However, due to the significant impacts of excluding a parent from a child’s life, all determinations regarding requests for sole custody are made on a case-by-case basis. When a parent seeks sole custody during a divorce or separation, the presiding judge will carefully review all of the relevant facts involved. He or she may require input from professionals who can provide insights into what is best for the children, given the circumstances. For everyone involved, the decision to establish sole custody is not one to be taken lightly, and the children’s best interests must always remain the guiding factor.

4 Key Principles of Child Custody Determinations in New Jersey

When it comes to establishing child custody, there are a number of key principles that divorcing parents need to keep in mind. These principles guide all child custody determinations in New Jersey, and understanding how they apply to your specific family circumstances can help you achieve a favorable outcome in your divorce:

  1. The Best Interests of the Child(ren) Always Control

The “best interests” factors discussed above are not just guiding principles, they are the guiding principles in all child custody determinations in New Jersey. Divorcing parents must adhere to these factors when developing an agreed parenting plan, and judges must apply these factors during all contested child custody proceedings.

  1. Parents Can Take Steps to Influence Their Child Custody Determinations

While parents cannot ignore or sidestep New Jersey’s “best interests” factors, they can take steps to help ensure that the factors lean in their favor. When contemplating a divorce, it is important to begin working with a New Jersey child custody attorney early in the process to make sure you are in the best position possible to secure your desired rights.

  1. Parents Today Have More Options Than Ever Before

Traditionally, child custody arrangements have involved one parent receiving primary custody (PPR Parent of Primary Residence) and the other receiving Parenting Time (PAR Parent of Alternative Residence) every other weekend. While this is still an option, there are many other options today as well. From a 50-50 parenting time split to a co-parenting arrangement in which you and your spouse continue to spend time with their children together, our attorneys can help you carefully consider all of the options that are available.

  1. A Child’s Wishes Are Relevant, But Not Determinative

When a child is “of sufficient age and capacity to reason,” his or her wishes are a relevant factor for purposes of establishing child custody. However, his or her wishes are not determinative, and parents (and the courts) must carefully balance the child’s wishes against the other “best interests” factors discussed above.

Modifying Child Custody After Your Divorce

Why is the 1st Order of Custody so important? Once an Order is in place any parent seeking to modify that Order will either need the Consent of the other parent, OR will need to Petition the Court (by way of filing a Motion) to ask the Court to change the current Order. New Jersey law allows for child custody modifications in limited circumstances, provided that the parent seeking a modification can demonstrate that a material change in circumstances has altered the best interests analysis. Crucially, if you need to seek a modification of your custody arrangement, you must do this before deviating from your current parenting plan. If you do not, you could be held in contempt, and this could lead to significant negative ramifications. This is why it is of utmost importance to seek experienced legal counsel especially when there has been no prior Order regarding Custody, as the Court may not even entertain a change in the Custody Order after it is in place.

Speak with a New Jersey Child Custody Attorney at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A.

If you are considering a divorce or need to modify your existing child custody schedule, our attorneys can help you preserve your relationship with your children. To discuss your situation with a New Jersey child custody lawyer at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A. in confidence, call us at call 609-281-8773 or request an appointment online today.

 

 

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