Somerville Child Custody Lawyer
Child custody is one of the most important aspects of any divorce or separation involving children. When parents divorce, the final settlement will indicate which parent will be the primary caretaker and how much parenting time the other parent will have with the children. Sometimes this can be resolved between the parents by creating a parenting agreement. However, in cases where the parties cannot come to an agreement outside of court, child custody evaluations may be required and a judge may ultimately decide custody issues.
With more than 25 years helping clients deal with child custody and other family law matters, Somerville child custody lawyer Katherine K. Wagner is prepared to help you and your family with your child custody issues. Ms. Wagner works to make sure that her clients are fully informed about the different child custody types and the considerations underlying each type of arrangement. She will work with opposing counsel toward a divorce settlement that satisfies all parties where possible and will fight for your parental rights in court where necessary. At the end of the day, Ms. Wagner is most concerned with ensuring that the final decisions made are in the best interest of the child.
What Are the Types of Child Custody in New Jersey?
There is no “one size fits all” for child custody, and there are different nuances and elements available to tailor each type of custody to the needs and circumstances of the family involved. New Jersey law does, however, establish a few general types of child custody. In New Jersey, the types of custody arrangements include:
- Legal Custody
- Sole Legal Custody
- Joint Legal Custody
- Physical Custody
- Sole Physical Custody
- Joint Physical Custody
Legal custody refers to the right of each parent to make decisions regarding the care and safekeeping of the children. Legal decisions may involve things like healthcare, education, and religious upbringing. Joint legal custody is often awarded in New Jersey such that the parents will share in making the major decisions that will affect a child’s upbringing.
Physical custody, also known as residential custody, refers to where the child will reside and spend most of his or her time. A court may determine that the parents will share joint legal custody but that one parent will take sole physical custody, while the other, “non-custodial” parent will be granted parenting time and visitation rights. The court or parties may decide to share joint legal and physical custody, such that a child will spend equal or close to equal time living at the residence of each parent. The party with physical custody will be responsible for making the day-to-day decisions for the child, keeping them healthy, fed, and educated on a daily basis.
Child custody matters often also involve related issues, such as:
- Parenting Time, whether supervised or unsupervised
- Parental Relocation
- Child Support
- Fathers’ Rights
How Does New Jersey Decide Who Gets Primary Custody?
In the majority of child custody cases, one parent will be designated the Parent of Primary Residence (PPR), and the children will live primarily with that parent. The other parent will be designated the Parent of Alternate Residence (PAR) and the children will have an agreed-upon amount of parenting time with that parent, usually on a set schedule. In general, both parents will have joint legal custody, which means they will each have an equal say in making major decisions that affect their children’s lives, such as education, religion, healthcare, etc.
The factors that a New Jersey court will use to evaluate child placement include, but are not limited to, the following:
- The parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child
- The parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse
- The interaction and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings
- The history of domestic violence, if any
- The safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent
- The preference of the child when of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision
- The needs of the child
- The stability of the home environment offered
- The fitness of the parents
- The geographical proximity of the parents’ homes
- The extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to the separation
- The parent’s employment responsibilities, and
- The age and number of the children.
Determining your Child Custody Needs
Every case of child custody is different. Sometimes both parties are in agreement as to what is in the best interest of their children, while at other times, there is no agreement at all. Ms. Wagner is well-versed in the various forms child custody may take, and she works hard to ensure that the emotional needs of the children are the primary concern. Ms. Wagner has been litigating and negotiating child custody matters for more than two decades and knows how best to evaluate the needs of the children and protect the rights of the parents.
Many different techniques can be used to agree on custody, including mediation, four-way conferences at which both attorneys and both parties are present, as well as custody evaluations. Ms. Wagner will employ all appropriate means to arrive at an agreement that ensures a positive outcome for any children involved in a divorce. If the spouses simply cannot agree, Ms. Wagner will fight to ensure that the best interests of the children are served and the parental rights of her clients are protected.
New Jersey Child Custody FAQs
With over 25 years of experience as a lawyer, dedicated New Jersey child custody and family law attorney Katherine Wagner has seen, heard, and experienced just about everything that may come up in a New Jersey divorce. While each case is different, there are many commonalities across New Jersey family law matters. Below you will find answers to some of the more common questions Ms. Wagner hears from her family law clients concerning child custody in New Jersey.
What are the different types of child custody?
In New Jersey, there are a few types of child custody that may be awarded, depending on the circumstances of the parents and children involved. These types of child custody include:
- Sole Custody. One parent lives with the child and has the complete legal authority to make all decisions regarding the child, such as decisions regarding the child’s health, education and welfare. The other parent, who does not live with the child, has no authority to make decisions contrary to the wishes of the custodial parent. The non-custodial parent may still be permitted visitation, depending on the circumstances. New Jersey courts prefer not to award sole custody unless it is in the child’s best interests. Further this form of custody is usually only ordered when one of the parents through drug or alcohol dependency, incarceration or physical abuse is not able to appropriately parent the child safely.
- Joint Legal Custody. One parent, the “custodial parent,” is in charge of the child’s primary residence and makes the routine day-to-day decisions regarding the child’s upbringing. The “non-custodial” parent has parenting time rights (formerly called “visitation”) and shared legal authority to make major parental decisions along with the custodial parent. Major decisions may involve things like health, education, religious upbringing and the child’s general welfare.
- Shared Legal and Physical Custody. The parents enjoy more of an even split in terms of both legal decision-making and physical custody of the child. The child may alternate weeks living with each parent, stay with one parent during the week and the other on the weekends, or any other type of shared living situation. This type of situation generally requires the parents to get along and, where possible, may provide the most stability and least traumatic change for children dealing with divorce.
If parents share custody, does that mean there cannot be child support?
No. Child support may still be awarded even where parents share physical and/or legal custody, although shared custody may reduce the child support award.
How is custody decided?
Assuming the parties cannot agree on a custody arrangement, a New Jersey court will make a custody determination based entirely on the best interests of the children. But, prior to making such an important decision, most judges will want the input of a psychologist who has been retained to perform a “best interests evaluation.” The court will consider the opinion of the professional, as well as a variety of factors to determine the children’s best interests, including but not limited to:
- The age and maturity of the children
- The parties’ ability to communicate and cooperate in matters of parenting
- The financial circumstances and level of responsibility of each parent
- The parents’ respective roles as caregiver before separation
- The quality and continuity of the child’s education
- Any history of domestic violence
If I have custody, do I need my ex’s permission to move out of state?
Parental relocation is an issue that often arises months or years after a divorce. If you have any form of joint legal custody, you cannot take your child out of state without permission. You must either get your co-parent to consent to the move or file an application with a family court for permission. You must have a plan in mind to ensure that the other parent is still able to utilize their visitation or parenting time. Even if you have sole custody, if your ex has visitation rights pursuant to a court order, you will need the court’s permission to take your child to another state.
Do mothers automatically get priority for child custody?
In the past, mothers were considered homemakers, and fathers were the breadwinners. Mothers had priority in custody, as courts assumed mothers were already handling most of the parental duties. Now, women work outside of the home just as much as men. The presumption in favor of mothers securing custody no longer exists. In New Jersey, mothers and fathers are on equal footing when seeking custody, parenting time and support. The court will evaluate the familial and financial circumstances of each case and make a decision based on the best interests of the child or children.
That being said, courts may express a preference for granting physical custody or primary residence to the parent who has acted as the children’s primary caregiver. Even as we approach gender equality, in many homes, the mother ends up taking on the lion’s share of parental responsibilities. In such homes, mothers may have an edge in seeking custody.
Additionally, New Jersey courts always prefer to keep both parents involved in the child’s life, unless there is good reason to believe that one parent’s continued presence would be dangerous or unhealthy for the child (situations involving abuse, criminal behavior, drug addiction, etc.).
If my ex fails to pay child support, can I refuse to allow visitation?
No. You cannot unilaterally decide to withhold court-ordered visitation, even if the other parent fails to pay child support. You should seek a petition for contempt of court to force your ex to pay.
Contact a Compassionate Somerville Child Custody Lawyer
For help with a child custody matter in Somerset County, Middlesex, Hunterdon, or throughout Northern New Jersey, contact the Katherine K. Wagner, Attorney at Law, today for a consultation. Ms. Wagner will fight for your children, your family, and your rights.