If you do a quick Google search for information on child custody and visitation, you will find post after post referring to the “best interest of the child.”
The phrase is mentioned all the time in divorce law, but what does it mean?
A Quick Overview on Custody
When separated parents cannot agree on a custody and visitation agreement (aka. a “Parenting Plan”) the courts must make the decisions for them.
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 decision can be incredibly subjective.
Courts also rely heavily on custody experts when determining custody, which can require an evaluation of both parties, and the children.
For these reasons, it’s always better for separated spouses to create a Parenting Plan together outside of court, if possible. Not only will this less intrusive approach give both parties more control over the process, it also begins the journey of co-parenting from a place of communication and mutual understanding.
A Child’s Best Interest, Defined
The “best interest” of the child refers to his/her physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Unless proven otherwise, it is assumed by the court that children benefit from having both parents play an active role in their lives.
According to N.J.S.A. 9:2-4, New Jersey courts will consider several factors when determining the “best interest of the child,” including:
- Age and number of children in each home
- Both parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child, existing custody arrangement, and/or parenting time
- Extent -and quality- of time spent by both parents with the child before and after separation
- Fitness of both parents
- General proximity of the parents’ homes
- Location of the child’s school
- Preference of the child, if age appropriate
- Preserving healthy sibling and parent-child relationships
- Special needs of the child, if applicable
- Stability of the home environment
- The immediate physical safety of the child (and other parent), along with any history of domestic violence in the household
- Work hours and responsibilities of each parent
- Any other issues the court deems relevant
New Jersey courts will always prioritize the “best interest of the child” over all other factors, including the wishes of both parents and grandparents.
Seek Counsel from a New Jersey Divorce Lawyer for Custody Disputes
It’s critically important to seek the advice of a New Jersey divorce attorney for all custody disputes and parenting plan modifications. Nobody should be “winging it” when it comes to protecting legal access to their children.
The custody lawyers at Arons & Solomon understand the stakes could not be higher. We work with clients in the Bergen County and Morris County areas to make sure loving and supportive parents stay closely involved in their children’s daily lives.
Our team also works to protect children from dangerous environments of domestic violence, substance abuse, and neglect.
If you need to create a Parenting Plan, or update an existing plan, we can help.