Child Custody: What does it mean?

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Child custody is often one of the most complicated issues in the divorce process. The divorce process is quite lengthy and daunting for the parents, but it can also have a detrimental impact on the children. If the parents cannot reach a mutual agreement amongst themselves in relation to child custody, the issue is then handled by the Family Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey in whatever county they reside in. Child custody is composed of Legal Custody and Physical/Residential Custody. Legal custody is when the parent/s has the responsibility of making decisions concerning the child’s health, education and welfare. Typically, parents share what is known as Joint Legal Custody.

Physical/Residential Custody deals with where the child resides. There is a lengthy list of factors under N.J.S.A. 9:2-4c that the Courts must abide by and consider when handling a child custody case and they are as follows:

• The parents’ ability to agree, communicate, and cooperate in matters relating to the child.
• The parents’ willingness to accept custody.
• Any history of unwillingness to allow visitation not based on substantiated abuse.
• The interaction and relationship of the child with his/her parents and their siblings.
• The history of domestic violence.
• The safety of the child.
• The safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other party.
• The preference of the child when of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision.
• The needs of the child.
• The stability of the home environment offered.
• The quality and continuity of the child’s education.
• The fitness of the parents.
• The geographic proximity of the parents’ homes.
• The extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to the separation.
• The age and number of children.
• The parents’ employment responsibilities.

In addition to the factors under N.J.S.A. 9:2-4c above, the Court must also determine the best interests of the children. To help base their decision, the Court considers several factors and they are:

• Which residence can provide for a better education?
• Which residence can provide “better” living conditions?
• Whether or not there is a history of Domestic Violence?
• Which party is more nurturing?
• The fitness of the parents.
• Whether or not there are siblings.
• Preference of the child (if the child is old enough and not a determining factor)
• Where will the child have the best chance for advancement?

In New Jersey, there are three (3) child custody categories: Sole Custody, Joint Legal Custody and True Shared Physical Custody. Sole Custody is very rare, where either the Husband or Wife is awarded legal and residential custody of the children. Whereas Joint Legal Custody, both parents have a role in any and all major decisions for their children. One parent is designated Parent of Primary Residence while the other is the Parent of Alternate Residence and a parenting plan is drafted to ensure both parents have time with their children. True/Shared Physical Custody is where both parents have equal time with the children. In this case, the schedules and flexibilities of both parents must be able to accommodate this form of child custody.

If you or someone you know is going through a Child Custody battle, contact the attorney’s at The Law Office of Eric B. Hannum Esq., LLC, to discuss the specifics in great detail.

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