Until a child is 18 years old or is legally emancipated, they are considered a minor. Parents retain custody of the child until that time. Custody refers to the physical and legal right to exercise control over the minor. 

Generally, parents maintain joint custody over their children unless modified by a court order. The Bergen county family court decides child custody during divorce, paternity, and other cases involving minor children. 

What Is the Law in New Jersey Regarding Child Custody?

According to New Jersey law, it is the public policy of the State to assure minor children have continuing and frequent contact with both parents after parents dissolve their marriage or separate. It is believed that it is in a child’s best interest to maintain a close bond with both parents. Therefore, parents are encouraged to share the responsibilities and rights of raising their children.

Courts often grant joint custody of minor children to both parents. Custody refers to legal custody and physical custody. When parents share custody, they both have a say in how their children are raised and issues related to their children. 

However, a primary consideration in all custody cases is the best interests of the child. If the court finds that it is not in the child’s best interest to grant joint custody, it can grant sole custody to one parent. The noncustodial parent may receive appropriate parenting time to spend with the child. 

There are two types of custody the court may grant to parents. It may grant joint or sole custody for one or both types of custody.

Legal custody refers to the authority to make decisions for a minor. When parents have legal custody, they can make decisions related to health care, medical treatment, education, religion, child care, and extracurricular activities.

When parents share legal custody, they have an equal say in these decisions. However, a parent with sole legal custody has the authority to make these decisions without consulting the other parent or considering the other parent’s opinion.

What Is Physical Custody of a Child?

Physical custody refers to the right to decide where a child lives. It also includes a parent’s responsibility to provide for the care and upkeep of the child on a daily basis. 

Parents may be granted joint custody. However, the judge may designate one parent as having primary physical custody. That means the child primarily lives with that parent and visits the other parent according to a negotiated parenting plan.

The reason for designating one parent as having primary physical custody is to ensure the child has a stable living environment. Sharing physical custody on a 50-50 basis could be disruptive for children. Going back and forth between the parents’ homes every week or every other week can be difficult for children.

Instead, the child lives primarily with one parent. The parents work together to determine the best schedule for the child. For example, a parenting plan may call for a child to live with one parent, but the other parent cares for the child each day after school.

On the other hand, a parenting plan may allow a parent to spend time with the child one evening each week and have the child in their home every other weekend for overnight visits.

Parents are encouraged to work together to develop a parenting plan that meets the needs of their family. However, the judge reviews the plan to ensure it is in the best interest of the child. The judge can change the parenting plan if the plan does not meet the child’s needs and best interest.

When parents cannot agree to the terms of a parenting plan, the judge makes the decision for the parents. The judge bases custody decisions on what is best for the child.

New Jersey judges consider a wide range of factors when deciding custody cases. New Jersey Statute §9:2-4 lists several factors judges consider when determining a child’s best interest. Those factors include:

  • The number of children in the home and the age of each child
  • The fitness of both parents
  • A parent’s ability to communicate, agree, and cooperate regarding matters related to custody and parenting time
  • The preference of the child, if age appropriate
  • The amount of time and the quality of the time spent with the child by each parent before and after the parents separated
  • The location of each parent’s home
  • Any special needs the child might have and the ability of each parent to meet those needs
  • The stability of a parent’s home
  • The location of the child’s school
  • The work hours of each parent
  • The need to preserve relationships between a child and parent and a child and siblings
  • A history of domestic violence 

A judge may consider other factors relevant to the child’s best interest. Judges are directed by law to prioritize the child’s best interest when making decisions regarding legal custody and physical custody. 

Parents can seek legal counsel from a child custody lawyer if they have questions or are concerned about custody matters.

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