Basics of Child Custody
The process of negotiating a child custody arrangement is one of the most stressful situations you may ever have to deal with. New Jersey family law attorney Tanya Freeman helps parents understand the complexities of child custody laws and is well-practiced in mediating peaceful settlements. Here is some helpful information on the basics of child custody.
Basics of Child Custody | Types of Child Custody
In New Jersey, there exist two types of child custody:
Legal Custody: This pertains to a parent’s access to school and medical records. New Jersey precedent prefers joint legal custody in all but extreme cases – for example, when there has been a history of child abuse.
Physical Custody: This pertains to where the children will live. While it’s possible to have a 50/50 physical custody arrangement, you have to think hard about the feasibility of this option: complicating factors include the proximity of both parents’ residences, career obligations, etc. Generally, in New Jersey there will be one “parent of primary residence” – the “custodial parent” – and one “parent of alternate residence,” allotted a certain amount of time with the children. There are countless ways to split this time up, accounting for holidays, summers, weekends, weekday dinners, and travel. While you have legitimate desires to be acknowledged in these decisions, it’s important here, as with all other decisions directly pertaining to the children, to put their interests first.
Basics of Child Custody | Mediation vs. Litigation
If you go to trial, a judge will decide what’s best. That means a judge could be deciding what’s best for your children – and you’d have to abide by that decision. No one knows your children better than you and your spouse do. That means the question of child custody is often best suited to mediation. Can you and your spouse work together, with your attorneys, toward decisions that put your children’s interests first? How will you handle holidays, birthdays, and other milestones? Where will they go to school and where will they live?
When negotiating child custody, you need to think far into the future and be sure to bring up every concern. With your spouse, you should discuss:
- Your schedules and availability.
- Your expectations for the child’s religious upbringing and education.
- Your ideas for dividing weekends, holidays, and summers.
- Depending on your situation, you may also want to discuss any plans to move out of the area or out of state.
Basics of Child Custody | What the Courts Will Consider
If left up to the courts, a judge will consider the following factors in deciding child custody:
- The parents’ willingness to accept custody.
- The needs of the child.
- The fitness of the parents – their ability to parent.
- The stability of each home environment.
- The parents’ ability to communicate and work together in matters relating to the child.
- Any history of unwillingness to allow visitation (except in cases of abuse).
- Any history of domestic violence.
- The child’s safety and the safety of one parent from physical abuse by the other parent.
- The child’s preference, if the child is old enough to make an intelligent decision.
- The interactions and relationship of the child with his or her parents and siblings.
- The child’s educational needs (and the value of continuity).
- The proximity of the parents’ homes.
- The extent and quality of each parent’s time spent with child before and after the separation.
- The parents’ employment responsibilities and how this might affect their ability to parent.
- The age and number of children.
If you are looking to negotiate a child custody arrangement, or are having difficulty enforcing an existing arrangement, please contact New Jersey child custody lawyer Tanya Freeman today for a free consultation.