What You Need to Know About NJ Child Custody
Child custody issues are sometimes the most heated and emotional issues that can arise in family law, giving life to some of the most bitter disputes. These disputes can continue on into the future, long after a divorce is finalized or custody originally settled.
For more NJ divorce information, read our Self-Help Guide To Divorce in NJ.
How is NJ Child Custody Decided
The first step for deciding NJ child custody happen at the negotiation/mediation table. During this process, mediators will attempt to get both parents to agree to conditions that will provide the best outcome for the child(ren).
Now, if an agreement on custody arrangements for your child(ren) cannot be reached through negotiation or mediation, the issue will be decided by a Judge, who will base the decision on what is in the best interests of your child(ren).
Important NJ Child Custody Terms: Legal and Physical
There are two types of child custody in NJ that parents need to understand: legal and physical.
NJ Child Custody – Legal Custody
Legal custody is the ability to make legal decisions about important issues that could have long term effects on the child(ren), such as education, medical care, religion and the like.
- If both parents share this responsibility for making these important decisions together, then they share joint legal custody.
- If only one parent has the sole responsibility for making such decisions, then that parent has sole legal custody.
NJ Child Custody – Physical Custody
Physical custody is the type of custody people are more familiar with.
Essentially, physical custody is with whom the child(ren) actually reside. The parent exercising physical custody makes the practical decisions concerning the child’s daily life, such as making sure homework is completed, deciding what the child(ren) eat, when they go to bed and the like.
- The parent of primary residence is the parent with whom the child(ren) resides the majority of the time. The other parent is the parent of alternate residence.
- NJ Child Custody Attorney Note: Depending on who the child(ren) are with, whether it is the parent of primary or alternate residence, that parent makes the practical decisions when the child(ren) are with them.
- Physical custody can also be shared, so the child(ren) spend roughly the same amount of time with each parent.
These arrangements are typically where a lot of disagreements begin. In many cases, one parent makes a decision about the child(ren)’s welfare, and the other parent feels infringed upon. Or disagrees with the decision outright.
NJ Child Custody issues are complex and often emotionally charged. Before venturing into the child custody issues alone, take advantage of our free consultation offer and ask some questions of our experienced NJ Child Custody attorneys.
NJ Child Custody evaluations
A child custody evaluation is a process in which a mental health professional, typically a psychologist, evaluates a child and the parents of that child in order to make a recommendation to the court regarding child custody and visitation rights.
The main focus of all custody evaluations is to ensure that the best interests of the children involved are being met as best as possible. This requires the psychologist to pay close attention to the needs of the children and the skills that each parent may or may not have to meet those needs.
Typically, these evaluations occur because the parents are unable to reach an agreement during mediation, or one parent feels their current arrangement is not suiting the best needs of the child(ren).
Despite being common, these evaluations can be stressful and worrisome for parents.
Changing a NJ Child Custody Arrangement
Despite the sense of finality perceived and achieved by a divorce and subsequent events, family law is actually a fluid practice, and more often than not, open to review.
If an arrangement has been made but is no longer viable due to changed circumstances, you may certainly revisit the agreement with your NJ child custody attorney and make changes.
There are steps to follow, depending on the state you live in, but here in New Jersey, it starts with specifying whether a change needs to be made to the child’s legal custody, physical custody or both.
Changing a NJ Child Custody Arrangement When the Custodial Parent Dies…
As we’ve discussed, child custody is typically decided in the best interests of the child. Unfortunately, circumstances can sometimes change for the worse, and the custodial parent passes away.
In New Jersey, when a custodial parent dies there is a presumption that the living biological parent assumes custody. When both parents have been very involved in the child’s life, this is usually a non-issue. Sometimes, however, there is another person in the child’s life who believes that he or she has been more involved in the child’s life or is better suited to be the custodial parent, than the living biological parent.
A custody dispute between a natural parent and a third party is governed by Watkins v. Nelson, 163 N.J. 235.
Essentially, the biological parent’s presumption of custody is derived from his or her Fourteenth Amendment rights and rooted in his or her right to privacy.
However, presumption in favor of the biological parent can be overcome by “a showing of gross misconduct, unfitness, neglect, or ‘exceptional circumstances’ affecting the welfare of the child [.]” Watkins, supra, 163 N.J. at 246.
These custody disputes are much more complex than typical child custody disputes. Contact our experienced NJ Child Custody attorneys today to get the best possible legal advice.
NJ Child Custody in a Tri-parenting Arrangement
Typically, NJ child custody agreements involve two parents.
However, as recently as last year, a new concept called “tri-parenting” was introduced in trial court, involving a same-sex married couple and their female companion.
In that case, two men had agreed to jointly raise a child with a woman, after the woman had conceived via one of the men’s sperm and carried the child to term. All three took parenting classes, held separate baby showers and prepared their homes for the child to reside with all three parties.
The origins of this arrangement may seem unique but sadly, it proved just as vulnerable to breakdown as any other. For years following the child’s birth, the three parties co-parented the child, but one day, the mother decided to get married and move to California with the baby. Unable to resolve matters of custody and parenting time, the married couple were forced to file a complaint seeking legal and physical custody.
These custody disputes are far more complex than even the most complex child custody disputes. Contact our experienced NJ Child Custody attorneys today to get the best possible legal advice.