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Courts are more even-handed than many people believe with regard to the custody rights of fathers and mothers. New Jersey’s Legislature has taken conscious steps toward alleviating imbalances between parents. It is the State’s policy to “assure minor children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage.” N.J.S.A. § 9:2-4. Our custody statute goes on to state “that it is in the public interest to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing in order to effect this policy.” N.J.S.A. § 9:2-4.
Unfortunately, the misconception persists that fathers somehow have lesser rights of custody, leading some to accept less time with, or a lesser role in, the life of a child. This is why it is crucial that fathers have an experienced New Jersey fathers’ rights attorney who is well versed in family law – to provide the knowledge and confidence needed to preserve the relationship between father and child.
The first avenue of establishing a father’s rights is negotiation. Courts favor negotiated agreements, and a party has much more control over the result if a dispute can be concluded before reaching court. If the parents cannot agree, one of the parents must file a motion. In that event, the court will review the following statutory factors:
With these factors in mind, the court will determine custody and parenting time.
There are two categories of custody: legal custody and physical custody. A New Jersey court can award sole legal custody, which is typically disfavored, or joint legal custody, which courts often seek to impart. A sole legal custodian has nearly all decision-making authority over a child’s life. Joint legal custodians, on the other hand, share in major decisions, such as educational and religious decisions. The court will usually assign one parent as the parent of primary residence (“PPR”) and the other parent as parent of alternate residence (“PAR”). This denotes where the child primarily lives or which parent has the child a greater portion of the time.
The other category of custody is physical custody. This simply refers to which parent physically has the child under his or her care and when. The time a parent spends with the child in his or her physical custody is called parenting time, although in practice, the term “parenting time” is used to refer to the time the parent of alternate residence spends with the child. If parents cannot agree to a specific schedule for parenting time, the court will decide a schedule for them.
To some extent, a New Jersey court will look to maintain the status quo for the child. The parental dynamic that the parties are practicing or traditionally practiced can be a key consideration while the divorce is still pending. Although no single factor is decisive, factor twelve can carry more weight, initially, when a parenting schedule is in dispute. Thus, it is particularly important that a fathers’ rights attorney understands all of his responsibilities for the child, the activities in which he was involved with the child, and the quality and quantity of time they have spent together.
In addition, factor eleven should be a major consideration for a father, particularly if he seeks to share equal time with his child. If a child is residing primarily with the mother, the closer the father lives to the child’s primary residence, the better his chances are of having significant time, or even equal time, with the child.
Nonetheless, the importance of one factor over another will all depend on the individual circumstances of a case. No two cases are identical, so the factors will be weighed according to each parent and child.
Ultimately, the overarching consideration, with any matter of custody, is the child’s best interests. If what a father wants, or what a mother wants, for that matter, does not serve the best interests of a child, a court will not be inclined to grant that parent’s request. Here, it is important for a father to describe to his attorney why his custodial arrangement and schedule for parenting time is the best way to serve the child’s interests.
It should be pointed out that the above summary describes the traditional parental dynamic – a mother and a father. Such a dynamic may be outmoded for same-sex couples. Nevertheless, the fundamental concerns are no different when custody and parenting time become an issue in the event of divorce or dissolution. A parent is a parent, and it is paramount that he or she find the advice and counsel of an experienced fathers’ rights attorney to address these kinds of concerns.
At Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A., our attorneys can help you establish your rights as a father and come to a custody decision that is best for you and your child. We have been representing people like you in all areas of family law since 1992 and serve various locations throughout New Jersey. Call us today at 877-435-6371 or contact us online now to learn how we can help you.
Don’t let your rights be jeopardized.