When parents get divorced, they must create a Parenting Plan (aka. “custody arrangement”) that establishes the schedule, living arrangements, and major decision-making processes surrounding the co-parenting of a child.

Spouses have the option to create this document together outside of court. However, if they cannot agree on the custody arrangement, the New Jersey family courts will step in to make the decisions for them.

Every case is different, so the process to create a custody arrangement will vary. However, below is a general overview of what to expect if your New Jersey custody case is heading to court.

Custody Court Decisions Are Subjective

Unlike child support, there is no set formula to calculate custody responsibilities and visitation schedules. Each judge will weigh the individual criteria differently within the general framework of the “best interest of the child.”

The best interest of the child is not just an expression, it has a legal definition with a set of criteria explicitly outlined in New Jersey family law. There is no telling what criteria will be prioritized over the others.

In some ways, this part of the process can be a roll of the dice depending on which judge you get. For this reason, it is important to hire an established divorce attorney who is familiar with the judges in your jurisdiction.

(Learn more about the factors determining the “best interest of the child” here.)

Custody Court Decisions Rely Heavily on Expert Testimony

According to New Jersey Rule 5:8-1, a court-ordered custody investigation (aka. “expert report”) may be required if mediation fails or the parties are unable to make a plan on their own. The findings of this investigation are taken very seriously by the courts when making a custody determination.

Part of this investigation can include an expert report conducted by a licensed mental health professional with a specialty in custody evaluation. It includes a detailed written evaluation of both parties and the children, along with the expert’s recommendation on the custody arrangement and visitation schedule.

Custody evaluations can usually take anywhere from 2 to 6 months, on average. The duration of the process will depend on many factors, including: the evaluator, the availability of both parties, and the complexity of the case.

Both parties can use the same custody expert, the court can appoint one, or each of the parties can retain their own. Hiring two experts may increase the probability of a case going to trial and is usually a waste of resources, considering the reports are supposed to be objective.

The custody expert will meet with the parents and children, along with any other relevant individuals outside of the immediate family. This can include teachers, coaches, family friends, neighbors, extended family, and more.

The interview questions will explore the personality of both parents, and the quality of their relationships with the child. They will also evaluate the specific needs and behaviors of the child, and both parents’ abilities to meet those needs without conflict.

The expert’s recommendations will always be made in the “best interest of the child.”

Hire a Hackensack Divorce Lawyer

Whether you are planning to create a custody arrangement through negotiation, or taking the issue to court, the divorce attorneys at Arons & Solomon can help.