Arons & Solomon Divorce Lawyers | September 20, 2023 | Child Custody
Is New Jersey a “mother state”? Many people complain that Bergen County courts favor mothers when it comes to awarding child custody. But is this really true? There is certainly no legal justification for that sort of favoritism. To the extent that it exists at all, it exists in the hearts and minds of individual Bergen County family law judges.
The Tender Years Doctrine and Mothers’ Custody Rights in New Jersey
Mothers’ rights in New Jersey do not include a right to custody that is superior to the father’s, although they once did. Up until a few decades ago, maternal favoritism in almost all child custody decisions was the rule rather than the exception. Now it is against the law.
Likewise, there was a doctrine known as the “tender years doctrine” (a formal legal principle) that strongly favored custody for the mother if the child was under five years old.
The “Best Interests of the Child” Doctrine
The modern legal principle, which replaced maternal favoritism and the tender years doctrine, is the “best interests of the child” doctrine. Under this doctrine, the child’s best interests prevail over the rights of either parent. In most cases (but not all), this means Bergen County family courts prefer joint custody arrangements.
All of this doesn’t mean that there aren’t some judges out there who believe in and apply maternal favoritism due to their own personal viewpoints. All it means is that such judges receive no legal support for their prejudice.
Types of Child Custody in New Jersey
New Jersey recognizes two types of legal custody and two types of residential custody.
Joint Legal Custody
Joint legal custody means both parents share decision-making powers with respect to education, healthcare, religion, and other significant matters affecting the child. If one parent wants the child to switch schools, for example, the other parent will have to agree before it can happen. This arrangement can work if the parents get along well.
If the two parents cannot reach an agreement, they must appeal to a court to make the decision for them. This means that joint legal custody is not an ideal arrangement for parents who do not see eye-to-eye on matters affecting their child.
Sole Legal Custody
Sole legal custody means one parent has sole authority to make decisions for the child. If, for example, the parent with sole legal custody wants the child to switch schools, the other parent has no say in the matter unless they take the matter to court.
Shared Residential Custody (Physical Custody)
“Residential custody” refers to the child’s living arrangements. All other factors being equal, Bergen County courts prefer to grant shared residential custody. Under this arrangement, the child spends about half their time with each parent.
However, this arrangement might not be appropriate if one parent maintains a hazardous household (by using drugs, for example).
Primary Residential Custody
It is relatively rare for a court to deprive one parent of all opportunities to reside with their child. A court might, however, order the child to spend most of their time living with one of their parents. This parent is said to have primary residential custody of the child. Such a parent is typically entitled to child support payments from the other parent.
Custody Battles: Mother vs. Father and Individual Adjudications
Suppose that a child’s father exited a drug rehabilitation program six months ago and is known to suffer problems with alcohol. Further, suppose that the child’s father was twice evicted from their home last year and spent several weeks homeless.
Suppose further that no such problems have surfaced with respect to the mother. Granting sole legal custody plus primary residential custody to the mother would probably not constitute favoritism based on motherhood. Instead, the reasons for the decision would come down to individual differences between the two parents.
Let a Child Custody Lawyer Guide You Through Bergen County’s Family Law Maze
Bergen County family law is New Jersey family law. Although this is the way it works on paper, every New Jersey county has its own local quirks.
You’re going to need a lawyer who is familiar with local practices and who personally knows all of the local players (such as the family law judges). Schedule a free initial consultation with a Bergen County child custody attorney as soon as you realize you have a family law issue to resolve.
Contact the Bergen County Family and Divorce Law Firm of Arons & Solomon Divorce Lawyers for more help
Contact the experienced family attorneys at Arons & Solomon Divorce Lawyers today for legal assistance. Visit our law office in Bergen County or give us a call at (201) 487-1199 to schedule a free consultation with our team.