A recent Washington Post article reports that more than 20 States in the U.S. (including New Jersey) are considering passing laws which would make equally shared physical and legal custody of children after a divorce or separation the default standard model for child custody settlements.
While New Jersey’s child custody statute N.J.S.A. 9:2-4 states that “[i]n any proceeding involving the custody of a minor child, the rights of both parents shall be equal . . .”, that doesn’t necessarily mean both parents will end up with equal parenting time or decision making rights once a court considers what they believe to be most important in any child custody matter, the children’s best interests. For example, a court may award one parent more parenting time than another simply because they feel it is in the children’s best interest given the distance between the parents’ homes, even if both parents are perfectly capable of providing a safe and stable home for their children.
However, two bills (A5189 and S3479) were introduced in New Jersey’s legislature last month which, if passed, would drastically change how child custody determinations are made. These proposed custody laws would create the legal presumption of child custody, both legal and physical, being divided 50/50 in any divorce. The proposed laws set forth that such 50/50 arrangement should not occur only if a parent can show how such an arrangement would expressly harm the children in question.
The ramifications of this potential change to New Jersey’s child custody law have yet to be fully explored but as with any family law matter, regardless of the outcome of these proposed bills, if you are facing any kind of child custody issue such as during a divorce or after a divorce in a child custody modification or child custody enforcement request, it is highly recommended that you speak with experienced legal counsel in order to better understand your rights as a parent, your options moving forward, and how to protect your children’s best interests as well as your own.
Applying the Best Interest Standard to Morris County Child Custody and Visitation Disputes
Currently, all child custody and visitation matters in Morris County and New Jersey are decided based on what is known as “the best interest of the child” standard. This legal standard seeks to protect the safety, happiness, and physical, mental, and moral welfare of any child involved in a child custody or visitation dispute, and courts are guided by the following factors when determining what exactly is in the best interests of the child:
- the ability of the child’s parents to agree, communicate, and cooperate in matters relating to the child’s life and well-being;
- the willingness of the child’s parents to accept custody rulings and any history of unwillingness or abuse of a prior custody ruling;
- the child’s relationship to each parent;
- the child’s relationship to their siblings;
- whether either parent has a history of domestic violence;
- the safety of the child and either parent from abuse by the other parent;
- the child’s own visitation preferences if found by the court to be of sufficient age and maturity to express them;
- the educational and medical needs of the child;
- the stability and quality of life offered by either parent in their home;
- the mental and physical fitness of both parents;
- the distance between the parents’ homes;
- each parent’s work responsibilities and schedules;
- how much time the child spent with either parent prior to the divorce or separation;
- the type of relationship the child had with either parent prior to the divorce or separation; and
- any other factor the court deems relevant to the particular case at hand.
Clearly, many different things will be considered and weighed by a Morris County family court when making any kind of child custody or parenting time determination. And so, while each parent is given equal legal footing in any child custody matter, and the goal of thefamily court is to ensure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after a divorce or separation, this does not necessarily mean a court will ultimately award each parent with legal custody of a child, or roughly equal physical custody either.
Joint Child Custody Lawyers Denville, NJ
The idea of “joint child custody” tends to be somewhat misused by parents during divorce, as “joint” isn’t really the same thing as “equal.” For example, parents can have “joint” physical custody, meaning each parent has time with the children, but one parent spends more time with the children than the other.
Instead, when most parents indicate they want “joint custody” of their children, what they really mean is they want a roughly 50/50 parenting time arrangement. While the proposed laws we mentioned in the opening section of this article would make such a “50/50 custody” arrangement the default arrangement, at the moment, in order for a family court to find that a roughly 50/50 parenting time type of arrangement between divorced or separated parents is in the best interests of the child, the court will often look to these three inquiries in making such a determination:
- Do the parents live within several miles of each other?
- Can the parents maintain an amicable relationship after their divorce and effectively communicate with each other regarding the needs and lives of their children?
- Do the parents share similar parenting styles and belief systems?
While this kind of 50/50 custody situation is certainly possible, it is often more common for parents to share physical custody on a less “equal” basis, simply as a way to provide the children with a more stable lifestyle.
Contact Our Morristown Child Custody and Visitation Attorneys Today
At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys have extensive experience helping parents to fairly and effectively resolve all manner of family law and divorce-related issues in towns across New Jersey and Morris County, including Denville, Dover, Madison, Randolph, East Hanover, Florham Park, Morris Plains, and Morristown.
Regardless of whether or not the proposed changes to New Jersey child custody laws are passed, if you are facing any kind of child custody or visitation issue such as during a divorce, or after a divorce in a child custody modification or child custody enforcement request, the unique approach of our firm can help you to negotiate the matter with your co-parent. Our goal is to assist you to reach a fair solution which protects your children’s best interests, and also properly accounts for your individual rights as a loving and caring parent.
To speak with one of our family law attorneys today in a strategic planning session regarding any kind of child custody or visititation issue or concern you may have, please contact us online, or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 710-4366.