New Jersey Child Custody Lawyers

New Jersey Child Custody Laws

Custody of children in New Jersey is a two-fold concept.  A parent does not just have general “custody” of a child.  There is “legal” custody, “residential” custody, and both are then distinguished again by a “sole” and “joint” or “shared” designation.

Legal Custody In New Jersey

Legal custody is the right and responsibility of a parent to have decision-making power in a child’s life.  Legal custody contemplates the degree of consultation between the parents in making major decisions regarding the child’s health, education and general welfare.  If the parties do not consent to a legal custody arrangement, the Court will order a plenary hearing or trial on the issue.  Typically, in New Jersey, legal custody is generally shared equally by both parents unless the parties agree otherwise.  It is difficult (and uncommon) to get a Court to award one parent sole legal custody.  The parent seeking sole legal custody must prove that sole legal custody promotes the child’s “best interests.”

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Residential Custody in New Jersey

Residential custody, or physical custody, on the other hand, dictates how the child divides his/her time between the parents’ homes.  This also can be delineated as sole and joint or shared depending on the amount of parenting time each parent exercises with the child.  Parenting time can range from one parent exercising 100% of regular overnight parenting time with the child to an every-other-weekend schedule to a true 50/50 equal, shared parenting time.  If the parents do not agree to a custody arrangement, the Court may require each parent to submit a custody plan for the Court to consider.

Parental Custody Plans

These arrangements may designate a Parent of Primary Residence (“PPR”) and a Parent of Alternate Residence (“PAR”).  Typically, the PPR has more parenting time with the child while the PAR has less.  More of the day-to-day decisions are made by the PPR as the child spends more time in the PPR’s household.  Even if parenting time with the child is equally split between the parties, the PPR/PAR designation may be important.  The child will usually attend school in the PPR’s school district if there is no agreement by the parents otherwise.  The designation impacts financial responsibilities as well, for example, the PPR will typically pay for a portion of unreimbursed medical expenses before there is contribution by the PAR unless there is an agreement by the parents.

Determination of Legal or Residential Custody

In determining whether joint legal or residential custody is appropriate, the Court must consider the factors enumerated in N.J.S.A. 9:2-4: the parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child; the parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse; the interaction and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings; the history of domestic violence, if any; the safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent; the preference of the child when of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision; the needs of the child; the stability of the home environment offered; the quality and continuity of the child’s education; the fitness of the parents; the geographical proximity of the parents’ homes; the extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to the separation; the parents’ employment responsibilities; and the age and number of the children.  The Court also considers whether the child has bonded with both parents and, if so, if both parents are fit and willing to accept custody.  The Court also considers whether there is potential for cooperation with each other regarding matters of child rearing.

Even after the Court makes a determination as to legal and/or residential custody, a modification is warranted if it is in the best interests of the child.  The paramount consideration in determining the child’s best interest is the safety, happiness, physical, mental and moral welfare of the child.

Contact Our New Jersey Child Custody Attorneys

The New Jersey family law attorneys at Lesnevich, Marzano-Lesnevich, O’Cathain & O’Cathain, LLC are here to help if you, or someone important to you, has questions about children, joint custody, sole custody or parenting time.  Call us at 201-488-1161.