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Child Custody: How to get it, how to change it

New Jersey Child Custody

Divorce is fraught with many difficult emotions, but nothing is more emotional than a custody fight. Ideally, you and the other parent can reach an agreement on custody and therefore avoid the expense and stress of a protracted court battle. When agreement is not possible, a judge will need to determine custody.

Two Types of Custody

Child custody in New Jersey can be split between legal custody and physical custody. According to the New Jersey Supreme Court, parents should typically share joint legal custody, with one parent getting sole physical custody.

Legal custody gives you the right to make decisions regarding what education and medical care your child receives. Physical custody, by contrast, refers to whom the child lives with. If parents do not share physical custody, then the child typically lives with one parent and the other parent receives visitation time.

How Judges Determine Custody

Both parents might come up with a custody agreement that works for them. Generally, judges will honor your agreement unless it is against the best interests of your child. When you can not agree, New Jersey law instructs judges to consider a variety of factors, including:

  • The child’s relationship with each parent
  • The parents’ ability to agree and cooperate with each other regarding the child
  • Any evidence that a parent has tried to deny visitation
  • A history of domestic violence or abuse
  • The stability of the home environment
  • The child’s preference, if old enough
  • The fitness of each parent
  • The extent and quality of time each parent has spent with the child
  • Other factors

If the judge is considering whether to grant joint custody, then he or she will need to look at a few other factors to determine whether joint custody is feasible:

  • Whether the child would benefit from joint custody because he or she has developed a relationship with both parents
  • Whether both parents can satisfy the role both physically and mentally
  • Whether both parents can cooperate so that joint custody can work
  • Whether each parent is prepared to accept some form of custody

With respect to visitation, courts generally presume that the non-custodial parent is entitled to visitation unless it is clearly shown that visitation will cause emotional or physical harm to the child, or that the non-custodial parent is unfit.

Modifying Custody

Life rarely stands still, and custody arrangements might need to be modified. In New Jersey, parents can seek a modification at any time if a change in circumstances warrants it. The judge will analyze whether to change custody by looking at the same best interests of the child factors listed above. The parent seeking a modification has the burden of proving that the circumstances support a change.

Speak with a New Jersey Family Law Attorney

Elena K. Weitz, Esq. has been practicing family law for over a decade and understands how stressful child custody disputes can be. She works closely with her clients to find the best solution possible to their dispute. Contact her today for a consultation.