For parents, agreeing on custody matters is often the most difficult part of divorce. As you and your spouse prepare for yours, your views may diverge about such arrangements. Yet, your children’s best interests precede your individual preferences. By familiarizing yourself with New Jersey’s custody laws, you can understand how courts determine these.
How courts make their decision
Like many states, New Jersey presumes joint custody in your children’s best interests. This arrangement often implies legal custody, which gives you and your spouse equal responsibility when making decisions about your children. Yet, even if you share joint legal custody, one parent tends to be the primary physical custodian. The non-custodial parent will receive fair visitation, which they will work out with the custodial parent. If you and your spouse cannot agree on a visitation schedule, the court will send you to mediation.
During your custody hearing, a judge will account for a variety of factors to reach their ruling. These include:
- You and your spouse’s parental fitness
- You and your spouse’s employment obligations
- You and your spouse’s ability to create a stable home environment
- You and your spouse’s ability to communicate and cooperate with each other
- Your children’s relationship with each parent and any siblings they have
- Your children’s preferences (if they are older than 12)
- Any history of domestic violence on you or your spouse’s part
You or your spouse may have a history of substance abuse, mental illness or criminal activity. In these cases, you may not meet New Jersey’s threshold for parental fitness. The fit parent will likely receive sole physical and legal custody. The other parent may still retain visitation rights, potentially with supervision. If you or your spouse has engaged in domestic abuse, you will likely face a similar situation.
Reaching an agreement on custody can be difficult. By understanding how New Jersey courts approach it, you can keep your focus on your children’s best interests. An attorney with family law experience can help you do so while working toward a plan.