New Jersey’s child custody laws are designed to protect a child’s best interest during a custody case. With that in mind, the state will try to protect the minor child’s right to have continuing and frequent contact with both parents after a divorce or separation. Parents will be encouraged to share parenting responsibilities and rights.

Deciding Custody in New Jersey

A judge generally tries to grant joint custody so that both parents can share in the legal and physical custody of their child. The parents have as close to equal time with their child, and they also must work together to make decisions for the child, including religious, medical, and education decisions. 

Parents are encouraged to develop a parenting plan that allows the child to spend ample time with each parent. The plan divides parenting obligations between both parents. It also dictates the living arrangement for the child and how the parents will make decisions as they co-parent their child.

However, a judge will grant sole custody to one parent when the other parent is unfit to have custody. New Jersey courts deem a parent unfit if the parent’s conduct and actions could negatively impact the child’s wellbeing.

Five Factors the Court Considers in Custody Cases

When a judge is faced with deciding a custody case, the judge may consider any relevant information to determine the child’s best interest. The court is searching for a solution that protects the child’s happiness, safety, and wellbeing. 

The court must weigh the best interest of the child with the parental rights of each parent. It can be challenging to determine whether a child will be safe in one home versus another.

Therefore, the judge uses factors from the New Jersey statutes to help them decide what is in the child’s best interest. There are 14 factors discussed in the code. 

Five of the most important factors that impact child custody are:

  • The needs of the child
  • The stability of the home environment for each parent
  • The parent’s willingness to accept custody
  • A parent’s ability and agreement to communicate with the child’s other parent in matters related to the child
  • The relationship between the parent and the child and the interactions between the child and the parent

However, these are not the only factors a judge considers when deciding child custody. 

Other Factors Considered in New Jersey Custody Cases 

The judge may consider other factors, such as:

  • The number and age of the children
  • The child’s relationship and interaction with each parent and siblings
  • The child’s reasonable preference for living arrangements based on the child’s age and maturity
  • The child’s safety
  • The continuity and quality of the child’s education
  • Any history of domestic violence, abuse, neglect, or abandonment
  • A parent’s agreement to communicate with the other parent and foster a close relationship between the child and the other parent
  • The overall ability of each parent to care for the child

A court may consider any factor that it deems necessary and relevant to decide custody cases. Typically, it is best for the child when parents develop a custody arrangement and parenting plan that works for their specific needs and family obligations. 

When the court must decide the terms of a custody agreement or parenting plan, the parents may find that the court’s decision is not beneficial for the family. 

What is Included in a Parenting Plan?

The parenting plan addresses issues such as:

  • Where the child will reside most of their time
  • The week-to-week schedule for parenting time with the child
  • Vacation and holiday schedules
  • Each parent’s responsibilities and rights related to child-rearing
  • How medical, education, and religious decisions will be made
  • The procedures for modifying the plan and resolving disputes that might arise
  • The amount of child support 

Parenting plans may also address issues that are specific to the parents and the child. For example, a parenting plan may address visitation with grandparents or other family members. It may include how decisions regarding caregivers, relocation, daycare, and summer camp will be made.

A parenting plan may also address how new people will be introduced into the child’s life, such as individuals the parents may date. If the child has special needs, the parenting plan can be tailored to meet those needs.

The goal of a custody case is to ensure the wellbeing and best interest of the child. That can be challenging when parents refuse to or cannot work together. An experienced family law attorney can often assist in the process of developing a parenting plan and custody agreement that is in everyone’s best interests.