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New Jersey parenting time issues in divorce

New Jersey parenting time decisions are based on the best interests of children.

Divorce is difficult, but takes on a whole new dimension when children are involved. A divorcing parent can carry significant stress about their children's futures after divorce. Where will the children live? How much time will each parent get with them? Who will make major life decisions for them?

In New Jersey, the main child custody statute declares that the state's public policy is to "assure minor children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents" after separation or divorce and that parents are encouraged to continue to share "rights and responsibilities of child rearing."

New Jersey law also requires that court orders affecting parenting time - meaning custody and visitation - be based on children's best interests and that parents have equal rights in custody matters.

Practically, many divorcing New Jersey couples negotiate the terms of their divorces, usually with each being represented by his or her own family lawyer. As part of the overall negotiation, if they can resolve parenting time terms, it is likely to be good for all involved.

At least in a negotiated settlement, each spouse presumably has to compromise and has some input, whereas if they are unable to agree, the judge in the divorce matter, who does not personally know the people involved, will have to make the decision for them based on the evidence presented.

Still, any negotiated agreement on parenting time must still keep the children foremost in mind, because the court may disapprove the arrangement if it is against the children's best interests.

If the parents do not submit an acceptable parenting time agreement, the judge may ask each spouse to file a proposed "custody plan" for the judge to weigh in making his or her custody decision.

If the state court judge assigned to the divorce must make parenting time decisions regarding custody and visitation, New Jersey law sets out some options. In keeping with the policy of giving equal rights to the parents, the judge can grant joint custody, which has two aspects.

The first aspect of joint custody is determining who will make major life decisions on the children's behalves regarding things like educational and medical issues. This is sometimes called "legal custody" and when it is granted jointly, the parents must consult and make these decisions together. Joint legal custody is common in New Jersey.

Second, joint physical custody would mean that the child would alternative setting up residence at each parent's home. This is fairly rare. More commonly, the court will name one parent the primary caretaker with sole physical custody and the other the secondary caretaker. The child normally lives with the primary caretaker, with the secondary caretaker getting generous visitation time. The New Jersey Supreme Court has declared that the primary caretaker may be either a father or a mother.

Finally, New Jersey law allows the judge to creatively order any custody arrangement in the kids' best interests.

The judge "shall" consider certain custody factors:

  • Parental ability to communicate and agree on children's issues
  • Parental acceptance of custody arrangements
  • Relationships of children with parents and siblings
  • Domestic violence
  • Children's preferences, if mature enough
  • Children's needs and ages
  • Stability of parental homes
  • Parental fitness
  • "Quality and continuity" of children's education
  • Geographical proximity of the two homes
  • History of parental time with the children
  • Employment commitments
  • And more

The judge may also consider other relevant matters in the custody decision.

Any New Jersey parent facing custody issues should consult with an experienced divorce attorney as early as possible for guidance, advice and representation.

Keywords: child custody, factors, best interest of the children