Compassionate, Aggressive Representation in Child Custody Cases
Child custody is a common issue faced in New Jersey divorce and separation cases, however, it can also be one of the most sensitive. Each parent wants what is best for the child, but each may have different ideas about what constitutes “best.” Determining how a child custody case should proceed can be challenging, time consuming, and costly. By working with an experienced custody lawyer from the start of your case, you can protect your rights and the best interests of your child while working towards a positive resolution to the case that benefits the whole family.
What Is the Most Important Thing in a New Jersey Child Custody Case?
While there are numerous factors that go into making a child custody determination, there is one thing that trumps them all – what is actually in the best interests of the child. Any judge will agree, and the far majority of time spent on a child custody case is spent evaluating a number of different scenarios to determine whether they will have a positive or negative effect on the child. Each stage of a child custody case relates back to whether a decision or arrangement is in the child’s best interests, and the ultimate goal of the court is to finalize a custody arrangement that allows the child to remain safe and nurtured for the remainder of their childhood.
How Does a Court Determine What Custody Arrangement is in the Best Interest of a Child?
Determining what custody arrangement is best for a child or could be potentially harmful to a child is no easy task. It involves evaluating a significant amount of evidence and may include the retention of experts, and even then, it is not always crystal clear as to what arrangement will provide the child with the brightest future.
Some of the factors that are considered by a family court in a custody case include but are not limited to:
The age and physical health of both parents
The mental health of both parents
The ability of each parent to provide for the child financially
The location of where each parent lives and its proximity to the child’s educational and social activities
The condition of each parent’s home and their ability to provide a safe and nurturing environment for the child
The ability of each parent to take their child to and from school and social activities
The willingness of each parent to foster a continuing relationship with the other parent
Who the child has been living with primarily since the separation of the parents
The child’s wishes if he or she is old enough to petition the court
Whether there is a history of physical or sexual violence against the child or another parent
When determining custody, each of these factors and more must be carefully evaluated. A custody decision has the power to change the lives of everyone involved permanently, and it is a determination that must be made only after considering all the facts of a case.
Types of Custody Arrangements
There are many different types of child custody arrangements that can be ordered based on the evidence brought forward in a case.
Primary Physical or Residential Custody
If one parent is granted physical or residential custody, it means that he or she will have a majority of overnights with the children, and the other parent will have arranged parenting time. When parents live farther apart from each other, the court is more inclined to award primary physical custody to one parent and visitation to the other in order to help stabilize the child’s routine.
Shared Physical or Residential Custody
Shared physical or residential custody, means that the child will live with each parent for an equal amount of time. This type of custody arrangement is generally reserved for parents who live very close together or in situations where shared physical custody would not disrupt the child’s routine or schedule, especially with schooling and day care needs.
Even if one parent is designated as having primary residential custody, the other parent will be awarded parenting time on a set schedule that is in the children’s best interests. There is no perfect formula or set number of overnights the alternate parent will have, and the arrangement that works best for the parties and their children will likely depend on the circumstances of each case. Even in situations where one parent is designated as having primary residential custody, it is common for holidays and special occasions to still be divided equally between the parents, generally alternating from year to year.
Shared Legal Custody
Legal custody means that a parent has the right to make important decisions for the child, such as where the child will go to school or what type of medical care the child will receive. Most courts recognize that it is in the best interest of a child to have a continuing relationship with both of his or her parents. Therefore, a family court will almost always strive to issue a custody order that allows both parents to spend adequate time with the child, and requires both of them to consult with one another before making any important decisions on behalf of the child.
Shared legal custody is the most common type of legal custody awarded in New Jersey, even when the parents do not equally share physical custody of their children. In these cases, both parents must consult with one another regarding important decisions for the children, and agree on the best course of action. This means that both parents will need to discuss major decisions involving the children, such as where the children will go to school or what type of medical care the children will receive and reach an agreement on the matter.
Sole Legal or Physical Custody
While not favored by courts, there are some cases in which shared parenting or shared decision making is not in the best interest of the child. For example, if one parent has been shown to be abusive or completely lacks the mental and physical capacity to care for the child, the court may award sole legal or physical custody to one parent. This means that only one parent has physical and legal custody of the child, and no visitation is scheduled. If a parent is awarded sole legal custody, it means that he or she has the ability to make such decisions for the children without consultation of input from the other parent. Sole legal custody is rarely awarded in New Jersey, because it is generally believed that in most cases, the children will benefit from decisions being made by both parents, instead of just one.
What child custody arrangement is best for you and your family may not be clear in the beginning of your case. It is important to take into account all the evidence at hand and evaluate each potential scenario in detail before reaching a final decision on what child custody arrangement will be put into place.
When to Speak With a Child Custody Attorney
Child custody cases are no doubt complex, and they can also be financially and emotionally draining. Heated, drawn out custody battles may be difficult for the child or children involved as well, especially if they are old enough to understand more about what is happening. In order to protect both your rights as a parent and the best interests of your child, it is critical that you reach out to an experienced child custody attorney in your area.
The Law Office of Steven M. Cytryn, LLC understands how sensitive child custody cases can be. We take a compassionate yet aggressive approach that allows us to offer our clients and their families with comfort while simultaneously advocating for their rights and interests in a zealous manner. If you are considering a divorce or separation and have children, contact us to learn more about your rights and what the next step should be. If you’re already involved in a custody case, let us help you work hard towards the best possible outcome for you and your loved ones. Call now for a consultation to discuss your case in detail.