The most gut-wrenching, nerve-wracking, and stressful part of a divorce is the battle for custody of your child. The stakes are incredibly high, and understanding the laws and regulations surrounding child custody requires the help of an experienced family law attorney.
Understanding New Jersey Custody Laws
According to New Jersey Statute 9:2-4 it is in the public interest of the state that both parents of the child share the rights and responsibilities of child-rearing. Under the law, both parents have equal rights to this. Furthermore, it is the job of the court to rule in the best interest of the child.
There are two types of custody that you will need to understand: the first type is physical custody. Physical custody (often also called residential custody) is where the child or children physically live. The second type of custody is legal custody. Legal custody is the ability to make decisions for the child. This includes where they go to school, what their extracurricular activities are, major medical decisions, and religious decisions. Legal custody of a child also gives you access to their medical and educational records.
To win sole legal custody, you must demonstrate, with evidence, that the other parent will not make decisions that are in the child’s best interest.
What Is Taken into Account?
There are many factors that a judge will take into account when making a decision about who gets custody. According to New Jersey Statute 9:2-4 they include, but are not limited to the following:
- The parents’ ability to agree, communicate, and cooperate with each other.
- Whether there is any history of a parent being unwilling to offer parenting time to the other parent without reason.
- The relationship between the child, siblings, and parents.
- The preference of the child, if they are old enough, will be considered.
- If there is a history of abuse or neglect on the part of a parent or both parents, it will be evaluated.
- How well each parent can meet the needs of the child will be considered.
- The stability of the home a parent would/does provide.
- The educational opportunities in the home the parent provides.
- The proximity of the parents’ homes.
- The behavior of the parents before/during the separation with regard to child care.
- The employment of each parent and its time demands.
You may note in this list that, unless you are pursuing sole custody as a way to prevent your child from being in a dangerous or abusive situation, communication and collaboration with your spouse is important. Remember that the goal is to create the best possible parenting situation for the child, not ‘win’ your custody case.
Even if you aren’t pursuing full custody, it is helpful to understand these considerations as they will help you develop a plan for co-parenting that is in your child’s best interest.
When Is Sole Custody Granted?
The state of New Jersey is motivated to have both parents share responsibility for their children. However, sole custody will be granted if it can be proven that either the parents are unable to communicate, collaborate, and agree on major decisions for the child or one parent is abusive, neglectful, or absent.
If two parents are unable to agree on significant issues like medical care or education, and cannot resolve the disagreement, it is appropriate to seek sole custody. In this case, you must prove that you make better decisions for the child and are more dedicated to acting in the child’s best interest.
Naturally, if one parent is abusive or neglectful, sole custody might be granted. It is important to note, however, that limited parenting time with the abusive parent may still be granted by the court.
How to Present an Effective Case
When you’re thinking about your child and how you parent them, you might have tons of examples in your head about poor choices your spouse made, or things they said that is evidence they should not have custody. While these things matter, memory and ‘he said she said’ doesn’t hold much water in a court. It is critical that you gather evidence. Whether it’s texts, emails, documents, voicemails, attendance records, doctor’s notes, or even notes from friends and family, concrete items are always more powerful and persuasive than just testimony.
Call Us Today
New Jersey custody laws are complex. If you are entering a divorce and subsequent custody battle with your spouse, it is critical that you contact a lawyer. Call the Monmouth County divorce attorneys of Law Office of Andrew A. Bestafka, Esq. at (732) 898-2378 today. We are here to help you fight for your child’s best interest and guide you through all the intricacies of New Jersey child custody law.