If you're a parent about to — or even considering the possibility of — divorce, the biggest issue on your mind is likely your children and how ending your marriage may affect your relationship and parenting time with them. Divorce brings many stressful changes, from financial to emotional and more, but for divorcing parents, the most worrisome matter of all is typically child custody.
One strategy that may provide some peace of mind is familiarizing yourself with New Jersey's child custody laws even before you start trying to work out a parenting arrangement with your ex. While most of New Jersey's child custody statutes are similar to those of other states, there are a few differences that you may wish to note.
In New Jersey, family courts generally prefer that both parents remain an active participant in their children's lives, excepting extreme cases of abuse or neglect, of course. To this end, many prefer to presume shared or joint custody from the outset of proceedings. However, custody may take the form of one of several varying arrangements, including:
- Your children living primarily with one parent but alternating time spent with both, depending on your children's needs as well as the needs and circumstances of you and your ex
- You and your ex collaborating when making major determinations for your children's medical and educational decisions
- One parent having sole custody while courts grant the non-custodial parent an appropriate amount of time with the children
Courts generally make child custody decisions based upon what they deem to be in your children's best interests, so even though they prefer joint custody arrangements, there are a number of variables that go into making the determination.
Custody determination factors
Typically, the factors that will affect your child custody determination in New Jersey include:
- Any existence of domestic violence, both within the family and historically
- The overall stability of each home environment
- Both you and your ex's readiness to accept court-appointed custody arrangements
- You and your ex's willingness to cooperate and communicate with each other on issues relating to the best interests of your children
- The quality of each child/parent relationship
- Each parent's overall ability to care for the children
- The location and proximity of your home and that of your ex
- Your children's ages
- How many children reside in each home, especially if some are from another relationship or marriage
- Your children's stated preference if they are over age 12 and competent to make such a decision
- Any unique needs any of your children may have, especially medically, psychologically or emotionally documented ones
Typically, New Jersey courts will approve a parenting plan that you and your ex draft and agree on, unless they deem the requested custody arrangement does not serve the needs of your children. In more complicated cases, such as if you and your ex are unable to reach an agreement, the court may require each of you to separately submit your own custody proposals and they will take both into consideration before making an official determination.
Whether you and your ex have difficulty reaching a child custody agreement or if you both are able to set aside your differences when it comes to figuring out a parenting plan, you'll likely find the guidance of an experienced Jersey City family law attorney invaluable in hammering out the details. With skilled guidance, both you and your children will soon be on your way to a more stable future.