Custody is probably the most difficult issue for a couple to address. Both parents want to do what is in the best interest of their children, but just can’t seem to agree on what that actually is. Meanwhile, child custody is the area that has the least amount of “hard rules” to guide you. Because of that, it is important that you have an attorney who has experience in child custody situations. Ms. Friedland and Mr. Shauger are experienced child custody attorneys located in Morris County, NJ and appear regularly throughout Northern New Jersey.
Child Custody in NJ
There are two different types of child custody in New Jersey; legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody relates to the parents’ roles in making decisions affecting the child. Physical custody relates to where the child will live primarily. Normally, parents are awarded joint legal custody and both have a say in major decisions affecting the education, health and welfare of their child. As for physical custody, there are three main questions that need to be addressed. First, who will be the “residential” or “primary” physical custodian; second, will there be “shared” or “sole” physical custody; and finally, what will the actual parenting schedule look like. Keep in mind that a “sole” custody arrangement does not necessarily mean that one parent has no parenting time, any parenting arrangement in which the children spend less than 104 overnights a year with the non-custodial parent is considered a “sole” custody arrangement.
In deciding these various issues, the court will look at numerous factors including the parents’ ability to communicate and compromise, their individual fitness and ability to care for the children, their time commitments for work, even how closely the parents live to each other. For all involved, the overall goal should be to do what is best for the children. Unfortunately, there are no set tests to be applied in these situations. No predetermined parenting schedules. Everything is dependent on the specific facts of your case. Because of this you will need someone who is familiar with the New Jersey Child Custody laws to guide you through the process.
It is the hope that the parents will be able to reach an agreement on their own. If they cannot, the court will provide them with assistance through the parenting mediation program. If parents still are unable to reach an agreement, an expert may be appointed to provide a recommendation to the court and a hearing may be scheduled to resolve the issue. If this happens, you will need to have a child custody attorney to represent you.
Modification of Order in NJ
One of the good things about child custody in New Jersey is that it can always be changed. Just because a schedule worked well when your children were toddlers does not necessarily mean that it will still work when they are teens. The goal is always to serve what is in the best interest of your children. This can change over time. In addition, your circumstances might change making the schedule no longer workable or opening possibilities for additional parenting time that originally weren’t available to you. In these situations either parent can apply to the court for a modification of orders of child custody.
In some cases, parents need to return to court for a modification of child custody because one of them is relocating. If there is a relocation after the divorce, several factors need to be reviewed. First, who is moving? If the non-custodial parent is moving, what kind of accommodations can be made to ensure that they still have a relationship with the child? If the custodial parent is moving, how will that impact the other parent? Will they still be able to exercise the same schedule? If not, what kind of accommodations can be made to maintain that parent’s contact with the children? Are there reasons to think the children might actually be better off staying with the non-custodial parent in New Jersey rather than relocate? You also need to look at how much time the children spend with each of the parents prior to the relocation. The closer a couple is to having equal parenting time with the children, the harder it will be to relocate later on. Keep in mind that any decision regarding relocation is a very time consuming process. It is not something that can just be decided on a motion or in a summary fashion. If you think you may need to relocate, it is important that you speak to a child custody attorney as far in advance of the move as possible.
Usually, once the initial anger surrounding the break up subsides, you and the other parent will able to work out a custody arrangement that everyone can live with. To this end, the court will do everything possible to assist you in resolving this on your own. Shortly after filing for divorce, you will attend a parenting education workshop and will also participate in a mediation program provided by the court free of charge. If, after participating in mediation, you are still unable to resolve this issue, the court will normally appoint a mental health expert to prepare a custody and parenting time evaluation (at your expense) and make a recommendation. Unfortunately, these reports are normally quite expensive, in the thousands of dollars, and can take multiple months to complete. Knowing this, our attorneys will work with you to try to resolve your custody dispute as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Alternatives in NJ
Rather than resign your child’s future to an expert or the Judge, you should consider the alternatives to child custody litigation. You always have the option to submit this issue to mediation or to participate in a collaborative divorce proceeding. As indicated before, the court will provide you with free mediation services to try to help you through this process; however, you may wish to retain a private mediator to work this through prior to filing for divorce.
If you think you need more assistance than a mediator can provided, you can try to resolve this through a collaborative divorce process. In that situation, you will be represented by your individual attorney to negotiate on your behalf. In addition, you can choose to have a mental health professional work with you in the process to help you reach an agreement.
Ms. Friedland is a trained Mediator and is trained in Collaborative Law in New Jersey.