All New Jersey divorces involve many decisions that can have an impact on the couple’s children. If the children are minors, the court must weigh its decision in light of a concept called “the best interests of the child.” While the intuitive meaning of this phrase is obvious, New Jersey courts have enumerated several specific factors that have become incorporated into the concept. Understanding those factors can help a divorcing parent get through the painful issues of child custody and child support.
The specific factors
The list of factors comprising the best interests of the child begins with consideration of how the parents interact with the children and with each other.
The first factor is the parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate with each other in matters relating to the child. If the parents demonstrate behavior described by this factor, the court may be able to devise solutions that provide advantages to each parent; in the parents are not capable of communicating with each other about the child’s welfare, the court may be forced to make a decision that favors only one parent.
The interaction and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings is another important factor in evaluating how a decision will affect the best interests of the couple’s child. Judges will try to preserve the fabric of the family to the greatest extent possible, and the child’s relationships with its siblings will be an important determinant. The history, if any, of domestic abuse in the family will play an important role in the court’s decision. If one parent has been convicted of domestic abuse, most issues regarding the children will be decided in favor of the other parent. Similarly, the ability of the child to protect itself from parental abuse will be considered. In this regard, the overall fitness of each parent will be considered in judging the type of decision that will serve the best interests of the child.
The court will assess the stability of the home environment offered post-divorce by each parent, as well as the extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to the separation.
New Jersey law prevents a convicted sex offender from being awarded custody or visitation rights, but apart from this factor, a court may fashion any type of order which will better serve the best interests of the child.
In deciding whether to contest an issue such child support or custody, a parent should review the factors that comprise the “best interests of the child” with an experienced family law attorney.