Types of Child Custody in New Jersey and the Factors Courts Consider in Deciding Custody
Types of Child Custody in New Jersey And the Factors Courts Consider in Deciding Custody
When a couple separates, child custody often becomes a critical question. In New Jersey, as in many other states, there are two components of child custody: (1) legal and (2) physical. Moreover, parents can share custody jointly or one parent can obtain sole legal and/or physical custody of a child.
Legal and Physical Custody
Legal custody refers to the parent’s right to make decisions on a child’s behalf. For instance, a parent with legal custody decides where a child attends school, the child’s religious upbringing, and which doctors or mental health professionals a child sees and when.
Physical custody, on the other hand, refers to where the child lives on a regular basis.
Joint and Sole Custody
Each type of custody can either be shared by the parents or held solely by one parent. When parents are awarded or agree to joint legal custody, the parents share decision-making authority about the child. Together they decide, for example, whether the child will attend a summer camp or get braces. Similarly, when parents have joint physical custody, the child will split time living with each parent. Parents might alternate weeks during which the child is living in each of their homes or designate certain days when the child is living with each parent.
On the other hand, when one parent obtains sole legal custody, that parent has final decision making authority about important aspects of the child’s life. Sometimes parties will agree to consult with one another before a decision is reached, but the party with sole legal custody ultimately gets the final say. Parents also might agree to one parent having decision-making authority over certain topics (education, medical, etc.) and the other parent over others (religion, extracurricular activities). Similarly, when one parent has sole physical custody, the child will live with that parent, and typically courts will order a visitation schedule with the other parent.
Factors Courts Consider
In determining custody, courts in New Jersey always consider the best interests of the child. Courts typically prefer joint custody, so the child is able to form a strong relationship with both parents. But, if one parent is deemed unfit or the court otherwise finds that joint custody is not in a child’s best interest, it may order sole custody to one parent.
Factors New Jersey courts consider in reaching a custody decision include, but are not limited to:
- The child’s needs,
- The child’s safety,
- The parents’ ability to communicate and cooperate with one another,
- The child’s relationship with the parents,
- Whether a parent has a substance abuse history,
- Whether a parent has a history of intimate partner violence or criminal history,
- Whether one parent has been the child’s primary caretaker,
- Whether one parent has custody of the child’s siblings, and
- The parents’ employment responsibilities and whether each has the scheduling flexibility and supports necessary to care for the child.