New Jersey Family Law Part 1: Frequently Asked Questions About Child Custody Laws in NJ

Family law issues in New Jersey can be varied and multi-faceted. Lawsuits can range from a simple divorce to complex custody matters, to international jurisdictional questions and property characterization. Some of the most common questions I hear from clients about family law in general follow.

What Kinds of Custody are Available in a New Jersey Family Law Case?

There are two main kinds of custody in New Jersey – physical and legal. Physical means that a parent has the right to maintain a legal residence for their child, while legal custody is the ability a parent has to make major decisions for the child. So, for example, whether a child should receive certain medical treatment, or enroll in private school, would all be part of a person’s legal custody.

How Does a Court in New Jersey Decide What Kind of Custody a Parent Should Get?

In New Jersey family law cases, courts will always look to the best interests of the children when determining the types of custody a parent should have. There is always a preference for joint legal custody, which means both parents get to be involved in the decision-making for the children. Custody is not a one-size-fits-all determination, and courts will look at a variety of factors when making its decision.

What are the Factors a Court Will Look at When Determining Custody in a New Jersey?

There are 14 distinct factors a court will look at, in addition to the best interest of the child. These factors include things like the ability of each parent to co-parent and communicate about the child and to accept the orders of the court. Past dealings between the parents, children and their siblings will be instructive, as will any history or indications of domestic violence or abuse. If the child is old enough to make a good decision, their preference will be considered, as will the needs they have and the stability of each party's house.

Is Custody the Same Things as Parenting Time in a New Jersey Family Law Matter?

No – these are two different concepts. Parenting time is also known as ‘visitation,' and determines the amount of time a noncustodial parent gets to spend with their child. Usually, a court or the parties will agree to a specific schedule whereby the noncustodial parent gets to have guaranteed time with the child – often every other weekend from Friday to Sunday and another overnight during the week. Parents can agree to swap weekends or have a different schedule to the one the court has designed, especially if the parents work together well, or the child is old enough to understand and handle the flexibility.

What if I am not Comfortable With my Spouse Having Parenting Time Because of Their Issues With Drugs and Alcohol?

While courts in New Jersey always strive to ensure both parents get equal time with the child, sometimes it is not possible, especially if there has been a history of child abuse, physical disability, mental health problems, or any other situation where the health and safety of the child cannot be guaranteed. In these cases, the courts will order supervised visitation. The parents can agree on a third-party to supervise, like a family friend. Or, in some cases, an adult who has special training to supervise visits will be appointed by the court. The place of visitation is broad – it can be done at a community agency, or even a home or other public place, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case.

What is the Supervised Visitation Program of New Jersey?

This is a special program which promotes court-ordered supervised visitation and has created specific organizations which make it easier to provide supervised visits. There are positive aspects of the program: visits take place in a neutral setting with third-party supervisors. This means that there won't be unnecessary meddling by a family friend or relative who might have a certain bias against the noncustodial parent. The program is somewhat flexible, meaning noncustodial parents can have visits during the weekends and evenings, and sometimes the programs include a therapeutic element to encourage continued bonding between parent and child.

What Happens if the Custodial Parent Starts Preventing the Other Parent From Exercising Their Parenting Time in a New Jersey Family Law Matter?

Unfortunately, in really acrimonious cases, one parent can be tempted to use the children as pawns to hurt the other party. In New Jersey, one law makes it a crime for the child to be ‘taken, detained, enticed or concealed' from the other party for at least 24 hours. If they do this and are found guilty of Interference with Custody, they face incarceration, attorney's fees, and potentially other expenses and costs. This comes up when one parent decides to hide the child during the other party's court-ordered parenting time, or if they were served papers or know a case is about to start and they take off with the child.

What if I Believe my Child is in Danger, and That’s why I Refused the Other Party Access?

There are some cases where it can be a defense if the parent who concealed the child can demonstrate that they believed it was necessary to do it for the child’s well-being, and within 24 hours of them taking the child, they also called the police, prosecution or Division of Youth and Family Services. It is always a good idea to seek out the advice of a lawyer with experience in New Jersey family law before you prevent the other parent from seeing their child.

Also, see New Jersey Family Law Part 2: Frequently Asked Questions about Child Custody Laws in NJ, New Jersey Family Law Part 3: Frequently Asked Questions About How Assets Are Divided in A Divorce? and New Jersey Family Law Part 4: Frequently Asked Miscellaneous Questions. If you have questions about New Jersey family law matters, contact the law offices of Peter Van Aulen today for a free initial consultation, at 201-845-7400.

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