Child custody is often one of the most contentious and emotional issues in a divorce case. Divorce is difficult for the entire family, including children. Yet, children have very little say in what happens to them when their parents divorce.
Therefore, the New Jersey family court must protect the best interests of children during a divorce when parents cannot agree on a child custody agreement. The following New Jersey Child Custody Guide answers many of the questions parents ask about custody and visitation in New Jersey.
Understanding the child custody laws for our state can help you know what to expect when you begin negotiating a time-sharing and parenting plan with your ex-partner.
Contact us at our law firm or call us at (732) 747-1882 to schedule a free, confidential case evaluation with The Law Office of Jennifer J. McCaskill to discuss the specifics of your situation with an experienced family law attorney.
New Jersey Child Custody Laws Recognize Two Types of Custody
Custody refers to the legal rights of a parent. The law recognizes a parent’s legal and physical custody rights.
Physical custody refers to caring for a child’s needs and having control over a child’s daily activities. Even when parents share joint physical custody, the child usually lives with one parent. That parent is referred to as the custodial parent.
Legal custody is a parent’s right to make decisions for their children. For example, a parent with legal custody can decide where a child goes to school and what extracurricular activities the child can join. Legal custody gives a parent the right to make medical decisions for a child and decide what religion to teach the child.
Parents with joint custody share in the decisions regarding their child. A parent with sole custody can make decisions for the child without any input from the other parent.
What Do Judges Consider When They Decide Custody Cases in New Jersey?
The courts encourage parents to develop a joint custody arrangement and parenting plan that is in the best interest of their children and family. Parents who work together to develop a parenting plan and visitation schedule often find the arrangement works best for them.
If parents cannot agree on custody terms, a family court judge decides for them. The judge bases the custody decision on what is in the child’s best interests.
Parents begin a custody case on an equal footing. The judge does not give preference to either parent. Instead, the judge must determine the best interest of the child by considering the facts and circumstances of the case.
Factors a judge considers when determining custody include:
- A child’s special needs, if any;
- The ability of each parent to communicate and cooperate with the other party in matters related to their child;
- The fitness of each parent;
- The location of the child’s school;
- The number of children in a parent’s home and their ages;
- The general proximity of the parents’ homes;
- The extent and quality of time a parent spent with the child before the parents separated;
- The age-appropriate preference expressed by the child;
- The safety and stability of the child’s home; and,
- Any allegations or history of domestic violence or abuse.
Judges may also consider factors they deem relevant to deciding custody decisions in the child’s best interests. In some cases, the judge has the discretion to appoint an attorney or guardian ad litem to represent the child in a custody matter.
Can a Final Child Custody Order Be Modified in New Jersey?
The law allows courts to modify child custody orders for changes in circumstances. If the parents agree to the modifications, they can submit a proposed modified child custody order to the court. The judge will then review the order to ensure that the modifications are in the child’s best interest.
However, if a parent does not consent to modify a custody agreement, the parent seeking the modification must file a petition with the court. The petitioning parent has the burden of proving that the changes in custody are in the child’s best interests. The responding parent can present evidence and arguments against modifying the current child support order.
A judge must find a substantial change in circumstances occurred to warrant a modification of a custody order. Furthermore, the changes in custody must be in the child’s best interests.
Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights in New Jersey?
Grandparent rights differ by state. New Jersey recognizes the right of grandparents and siblings to visit with a child in New Jersey Statutes Annotated §9:2-7.1. Grandparents and siblings may petition the Superior Court for an order of visitation.
The court considers several factors when deciding whether to grant grandparent visitations. Those factors include:
- The child’s relationship with the grandparent;
- The relations between the grandparent and the child’s parents;
- Whether the grandparent is acting in good faith by filing a petition seeking visitation;
- The effect grandparent visitation would have on the relationship between the parent and the child;
- The amount of time that has elapsed since the child had contact with the grandparent; and,
- The custody and time-sharing agreement if the parents are separated or divorced.
Judges may also consider other evidence they deem relevant to the case. Before a judge gives grandparents visitation rights over parents’ objections, the judge must find visitation with the grandparents is in the child’s best interests and that denying visitation with the grandparent would harm the child.
Can I Deny Visitation if My Ex Does Not Pay Child Support?
Child support and child custody are two different matters under New Jersey law. Child support payments are determined by standard child support guidelines.
If a parent fails to pay child support, they face several penalties, including:
- Wage garnishment
- Suspended driver’s license
- Enforcement hearings
- Liens on property and assets
- Lottery winnings interception
- Bench warrants
- Seizure of cash from bank accounts
- Reporting to the credit bureau
- Seizures of proceeds from lawsuits
- Interception of state and/or federal tax refunds
- Denial of passport
A parent cannot deny visitation because the other parent is behind on child support payments. Failing to abide by a custody and visitation order could result in contempt of court charges for the parent violating the order.
Do I Have To Pay Child Support if I Share Joint Custody With My Ex?
Depending on the circumstances, you could be required to pay child support in a 50-50 custody arrangement.
The time spent with a child is a factor in calculating child support payments. However, even with shared custody, the child usually spends more time with the custodial parent. Therefore, you might pay child support if you are a non-custodial parent and earn more income than your ex-partner.
Schedule a Free Consultation With Our Monmouth County Child Custody Lawyers
Do you have questions about child custody in New Jersey? Call our law firm at (732) 747-1882 to schedule a free case evaluation with an experienced Monmouth child custody lawyer attorney from The Law Office of Jennifer J. McCaskill, LLC.