In New Jersey, parents are encouraged to share parenting responsibilities and to create their own custody agreement. However, this is not always possible when emotions are running high and they have hard feelings toward each other. If you are in this situation, you can ask the court to make a decision on custody of your children.
What Are the Different Types of Child Custody in New Jersey?
There are two types of custody in New Jersey: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to a parent's right to make important decisions about the child’s life, such as those regarding medical care, education, and religious instruction. Physical custody refers to where the child lives. Here are the child custody options that parents can agree to or a judge can order:
- Joint legal custody. This is the most common type of custody arrangement in New Jersey. Both parents share equally in legal custody, but the child primarily resides with one parent.
- Sole legal and physical custody. With this type of arrangement, one parent has sole physical custody of the child and makes all major decisions on his life. This type of custody is awarded when one parent is absent or not fit because of drug abuse, neglect, or other factors.
- Shared legal and physical custody. When shared legal and physical custody is ordered or agreed on, both parents share equally in legal and physical custody. This allows them to have equal parenting time.
How Are Child Custody Cases Started?
Child custody matters are decided by judges in New Jersey superior courts. A parent can begin the process of requesting a child custody order by filing a motion or a complaint when filing for divorce. In a divorce proceeding, the judge will make both a temporary custody decision and a final one in the divorce judgment.
When Can You Request an Emergency Child Custody Hearing?
In New Jersey, parents can request an emergency child custody hearing if their child’s physical or psychological safety is at risk. Certain criteria must be established before the request for an emergency hearing will be granted:
- Sexual, physical or emotional abuse of the child
- Abandonment of the child
- Child endangerment where the immediate safety of the child is at risk
- A danger that one parent will flee with the child
How Does a Judge Make a Child Custody Decision?
Before making a decision on child custody, the judge will conduct a hearing where both parents can present testimony, evidence, and arguments. Prior to this hearing, the court can order an investigation to review the parents’ fitness, financial condition, home, criminal record, and other factors that can impact on their ability to parent their child.
In making a decision, the court will focus on the best interests of the child. Here are some of the factors that the judge will consider:
- The child’s needs
- The child’s relationship with his parents and siblings
- The parents’ abilities to communicate with each other and cooperate in matters concerning their child
- Each parent’s willingness to accept a custody arrangement and past willingness to allow parenting time
- Fitness of each parent
- Stability of each parent’s home environment
- Geographical proximity of both parents’ homes
- Amount and quality of time that the parents spent with the child before the separation
- Employment responsibilities of both parents
- Continuity and quality of the child’s education
- Any history of physical abuse or violence
- The child’s safety from physical abuse as well as the safety of the parent from physical abuse from the other parent
- The child’s preferences, if he is of sufficient age and maturity
- Number of children in each home and their ages
Will Your Child Be Allowed to Testify?
Judges will take a child’s preference as to where he lives if he is old enough and mature enough to give input into the decision. His testimony would usually be taken through a private interview with the judge rather than in the courtroom. The judge would only allow an interview if it would not be harmful to the child. The parents can request an interview or the judge can decide to conduct one on his own.
If a child is interviewed, the parents can submit questions to be asked and the judge can also ask his own questions. If the judge decides not to grant an interview, he must state his reasons at a court hearing.
How Can Carl Taylor Law Help?
Deciding on custody of your children is one of the most important decisions you will make in your divorce or custody action. Our experienced divorce attorneys in Flemington are here to help. Call our office to schedule a private consultation to learn about your legal options and how we can assist you in achieving your “happily even after”.