In most child custody cases in Bergen County, one parent serves as the custodial parent. The child lives with the custodial parent, who provides day-to-day care for the child. The non-custodial parent typically has parenting time or visitation with the child.

Even though the child might live with the custodial parent, it does not mean that the non-custodial parent does not have any say in the child’s upbringing. That depends on who has legal custody of the child. 

Types of Custody in New Jersey

Both parents are presumed to have equal child custody rights unless a judge finds that it is not in the best interest of the child to award joint custody. Joint custody means that each parent has an equal say in raising their child. For example, they work together to make decisions about the child’s education, religious upbringing, medical care, and extracurricular activities. 

However, a judge could grant sole custody. Having sole custody means that you have the legal authority to make all decisions for the child without considering input from the other parent. 

For example, a judge might find a parent unfit because of a substance abuse problem or domestic violence. The judge generally awards sole custody to the other parent in that case.

Joint and sole custody can apply to physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody refers to where the child lives and spends their time. Legal custody is the right to make decisions for the child. 

Even when parents have joint custody, one parent is the primary custodial parent. The child lives with that parent. Having a primary residence can provide a child with stability and security. 

The parenting plan outlines the child custody schedule, including when the non-custodial parent has the child for visitation and overnight stays. The parenting plan provides the framework for co-parenting. If the parents cannot agree on the terms of the parenting plan, the judge orders parenting time based on the needs and best interests of the child.

How Do Judges Decide the Best Interest of the Child?

When parents cannot agree on where the child should live, the judge hears testimony from both parents. The judge may also consider testimony by a child custody evaluator and guardian ad litem.

N.J.S.A. §9:24 says the court shall consider the following factors when making custody decisions:

  • The parent’s ability to cooperate, communicate and agree about matters related to the child
  • The number of children in each home and their ages
  • The quality and extent of time spent with the child by both parents before and after they separated
  • The location of the child’s school
  • The responsibilities and work hours of each parent
  • A child’s special needs, if any
  • The preference of the child based on age appropriateness 
  • The fitness of both parents
  • The stability of the home environment 
  • The general proximity of the parents’ homes
  • Any history of domestic abuse
  • The child’s physical safety

The judge may consider other factors relevant to determining the child’s best interest. A judge prioritizes the child’s best interest over the parents’ wishes. Therefore, if a judge finds that it is in the child’s best interests for the custodial parent to have sole legal custody, the other parent will not have a say in major decisions in the child’s life.

Child Support and the Custodial Parent

Every parent in New Jersey is expected to contribute to the financial support for their child. The state has child support guidelines that help judges establish fair and adequate child support payments. Child support is calculated based on each parent’s gross income, the number of children, and the percentage of parenting time for each parent. 

The court may deviate from the guidelines when the judge finds the guidelines inappropriate. For example, the judge could adjust the guidelines based on the child’s needs or the parent’s circumstances. The judge must explain the reason for deviating from the child support guidelines in the final order. 

Custody Disputes Aren’t Easy on the Family

Sharing joint custody can be challenging at times. Parents might not always agree about what is in their child’s best interest. They might believe having sole custody is the best thing for their child.

Custody disputes can be lengthy and expensive. The result might not be what either parent wanted. Instead, it is typically in the child’s best interest for parents to work together to develop a parenting plan that addresses the needs of the entire family.

Alternatives to litigation in child custody cases include negotiation and mediation. A child custody lawyer could help you determine the best way to resolve a custody dispute that helps protect you and your child’s best interests. 

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.

Bergen County Law Office
1 University Plaza Dr #400, Hackensack, NJ 07601, United States