In getting a divorce comes the difficult decision of child custody. Who gets to take the children once the divorce becomes final? What is best for the child? The bottom line is, the rights of both parents are considered by the court when making a child custody determination.
It is important that minor children continue to have consistent contact with both their parents even though the parents have separated or got divorced. It is also important that the parents continue to share their rights and responsibilities regarding their child. Although courts strongly favor the parents making child custody arrangements that work for them and are in the best interest of the child, sometimes courts have to step in and decide what child custody arrangements would be in the best interest of the child.
What Court Can Decide Your Child Custody Arrangements
In the State of New Jersey, the family court in the county where the child lives can hear your child custody case.
If the child lives in a different state, then the appropriate family court in that state may hear your custody case.
Different Forms of Child Custody
The State of New Jersey, under N.J.S.A 9:2-4, requires that in any proceeding involving the custody of a minor child, the rights of both parents must be equal. Under the same New Jersey law, the court must make a decision regarding the custody of the child.
The court may order joint custody of the minor child to both parents. Joint custody is preferred in New Jersey because it keeps both parents actively involved in their child’s life. This form of custody allows for the child to form and keep a relationship with both parents even though the parents are no longer together.
Joint custody includes both legal and physical custody of the minor child. Physical custody refers to which parent the child will live after a divorce or a separation. Legal custody refers to which parent will be making the important decisions in a minor child’s life including decisions about the child’s health, education, and general well being.
If the court orders joint custody, the court will decide where the minor child will live. The child will either live with one parent or with both parents depending on the needs of both the minor child and the parents. The court order will require the parents to speak and come to mutual agreements when making major decisions regarding the minor child. This may include decisions about whether to receive certain medical treatment, choosing the school the child will attend, and any other decisions that affect the child in any major way.
The court may order sole custody to one parent with appropriate parenting time for the noncustodial parent. This means the child will live with one parent. That one parent will also be responsible for making all decisions regarding the minor child’s health, education, and general wellbeing. However, the parent who does not get custody of the child will still have some arrangement to be able to spend time with the minor child.
The court may order any other custody arrangement the court may determine to be in the best interests of the child.
If both parents have agreed to a specific child custody arrangement already, the court has to order that arrangement. If the agreed to arrangement is not in the best interest of the child, however, the court may come up with, and order, its own child custody arrangement.
If parents are not able to agree to a custody arrangement, the court may require each parent to submit a custody plan. The court will look at, and consider, both plans in awarding custody.
Lastly, there is a chance that both parents will not agree to certain custody agreements. If this is the case, the court must specifically state the factors which justify any custody arrangement that are not agreed to by both parents.
How the Court Decides Child Custody
The court has to determine what type of custody arrangement would be in the best interest of the minor child. In order to decide what type of arrangement would be best for any specific minor child, the court considers a variety of factors.
In awarding custody, the court shall consider but not be limited to the following factors:
- Whether the parents are able to properly communicate and cooperate in all major matters relating to the child;
- Whether the parents are willing to accept custody and any history of one parent being unwillingness to allow the other parent to spend time with the child;
- The minor child’s relationship with his parents and siblings;
- Any history of domestic violence;
- the child’s safety and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent;
- the child’s preference, if the child is mature enough to make a reasonable decision;
- the child’s needs;
- Whether the home environment offered is stable;
- the quality and continuity of the child’s education;
- The parent’s fitness to care for the child;
- How close the parents live to each other;
- The relationship between the child and each parent before the separation or divorce;
- The parents’ employment responsibilities;
- The child’s age;
- And the number of children.
A parent will never be deemed “unfit” to parent their child unless that parent acts in a way that has a serious negative effect on the child. Some examples of acts that have negative serious effects on a child include, but are not limited to whether or not the child has been exposed to domestic violence in the home or a parent having a history of domestic violence in general; whether or not the parent has any history of abusing drugs or alcohol; or if any one parent has proven through their acts that they have no interest in supporting the child or making the child’s wellbeing a priority.
A child may be able to decide which parent he prefers to stay with after a separation or divorce. The child may do this if the child is twelve years old or older. However, the decision is still up to the judge deciding the case. If the judge believes that the child’s choice would not be in his best interest, the judge may order a custody arrangement that takes the child’s preference into consideration but is also in the best interest of the child, even if it is not what the child wants.
Is a Child Custody Arrangement Permanent?
Once the judge has ordered a parenting arrangement that is in the best interest of a child, that arrangement takes full effect. However, a Child Custody arrangement is not necessarily permanent.
If at any point there is a substantial change in circumstances, and the arrangement is no longer in the best interest of the child, the arrangement may be reevaluated and changed.
Non-Parent Visitation Rights
Grandparents, and any others who are close to the child, may also ask the court to grant them visitation with the child.
If you, or someone you know have any questions regarding child custody issues, please do not hesitate to contact A.Brown Esq. for a free consultation.