parents fighting in front of son and daughter

The Essential Guide to Child Custody in New Jersey

When parents get divorced, one of their biggest concerns is what will happen to their children. Divorce is difficult under conditions that don't involve children, but it can feel overwhelming when you throw child custody into the mix. To help parents through this emotional and confusing time, our Bergen County child custody lawyers are here to break down the essential information about child custody laws in New Jersey.

What is the Difference Between Sole Legal Custody & Joint Legal Custody?

Legal custody refers to the parent who has the right to make decisions for the child's life, including areas such as their medical, educational, and religious beliefs.

With legal custody, parents can either be granted joint or sole custody. Parents with joint legal custody will equally share in the decision-making process. On the other hand, a parent with sole legal custody makes the final decisions concerning the child without needing the other parent to agree with them.

What is the Difference Between Sole Physical Custody & Joint Physical Custody?

Physical custody refers to where the child resides. There are two types of physical custody, including sole custody and joint custody.

Sole physical custody is when a child resides with only one of their parents. Typically, the child will primarily live with one parent and then have visitation with the other parent. The amount of visitation time with the other parent is determined by a judge or by an agreement between both parties. With joint custody, the parents generally split time with the child equally. There are multiple ways to achieve this, including an alternating weekly schedule.

Do New Jersey Courts Split Custody 50/50?

Typically, courts in New Jersey favor joint legal and joint physical custody arrangements between divorced parents because it allows the child to have a relationship with both of their parents.

However, NJ does lean toward 50/50 custody when it comes to joint custody arrangements. The court makes custody decisions based on the child's best interests, presuming that it is best for both parents to share responsibility for the child's well-being. Because of this, when joint custody is agreed upon by both parents or is ordered by the court, it is often a 50/50 custody arrangement in New Jersey.

What Determines if a Parent is Unfit for Custody?

The court does not prefer joint custody if the arrangement would be harmful to the child's safety and best interest. In such cases, the court may determine the parent is unfit for custody. The court may deem a parent to be "unfit" if they:

  • Have a history of drug or alcohol abuse
  • Have a history of domestic violence
  • Have demonstrated no interest in caring for or supporting the child's well-being

How Does Child Custody Impact Child Support Decisions?

Child custody is a separate issue from child support. Each parent is responsible for providing their child with food, clothes, and a safe and stable home to live in. After a divorce, child support ensures that each parent can still provide their child with the resources they need to grow into a healthy and happy adult.

To determine child support in NJ, there are two parties involved - the custodial parent and the non-custodial parent. The custodial parent, called the payee, is the parent who has physical custody of the child and takes care of their day-to-day needs. The non-custodial parent, called the payor, is the child's other parent who typically has visitation rights, as well as legal custody.

Protect Your Parental Rights

The Bergen County divorce attorneys at Sherwood, Johnson & Poles are experienced in all aspects of child custody law in New Jersey. Our team is here to answer your questions and concerns about your child custody case. We are here to not only defend your rights as a parent but protect your child's best interests.

Contact Sherwood, Johnson & Poles today at (888) 224-1218 for advice regarding your child custody case.