Bergen County Child Custody Lawyers
Ensuring Your Children’s Best Interests Are Maintained
Your attachment to your children is a bond that will never go away, but after a divorce, certain aspects of your relationship with your kids will change as a matter of course. These include how often you see your children and spend time with them, as well as how you make important decisions about their upbringing. The Bergen County child custody lawyers at Herbert & Weiss, LLP can help you understand these significant changes and also advocate for you in settlement negotiations or litigation to ensure an ongoing, meaningful relationship between you and your children that is healthy, respectful, and mindful of everybody’s needs and the best interests of the kids.
Call us at (201) 500-2151 today to schedule a consultation with our Bergen County child custody attorneys!
Child Custody Laws in New Jersey
New Jersey child custody laws address the following key issues:
- Types of custody – legal and physical
- Best interests of the child
- Parenting plans
- Parenting time (visitation)
- Mediation and custody evaluation
- Modification of custody orders
Types of Custody in NJ
In New Jersey, there are two main types of custody: legal custody and physical custody.
- Physical Custody – Physical custody refers to where the child will live on a day-to-day basis. It can be awarded solely to one parent (sole physical custody) or shared between both parents (joint physical custody). This includes how often they will live with each parent, including holidays and vacations as well as throughout the year. Arrangements such as drop-offs, exchanges, and how last-minute changes to the custody arrangement will be handled should all be addressed in the parenting plan.
- Legal Custody – Legal custody refers to the right and responsibility to make decisions regarding the child’s upbringing in areas such as education, medical care, religion, and extracurricular activities. It can be awarded solely to one parent (sole legal custody) or shared between both parents (joint legal custody). Will these decisions be made jointly or by the parent with primary custody? If decision-making is shared, how will disagreements be decided? These issues need to be fully explored and addressed by the parents or the courts in determining legal custody.
The policy of the state of New Jersey favors joint or shared custody and encourages meaningful relationships for both parents with the children, but above all the best interests of the children is the overriding factor in making custody determinations. The court can grant sole legal or physical custody to one parent if in the child’s best interests. The court can grant sole custody to one parent with or without visitation rights to the other parent, or order supervised visitation where appropriate. These matters are left to the judge to decide based on the evidence, testimony, and arguments presented in court, which is why it is so important to be ably represented by passionate and dedicated family lawyers who will advocate strenuously for your rights.
What Is a Parenting Plan in New Jersey?
A parenting plan is an agreement between parents concerning the distribution of parenting time. The plan can be drafted by the parents or built by legal and other professionals. When parties to a divorce are able to work together to construct a parenting plan, the divorce process can be made that much easier for any shared children, as well as for the parents themselves. If the parents can agree on how to share custody of the children, they can draw up a parenting plan and submit it to the court for approval. In a divorce involving custody, the mutually-agreed-upon parenting plan can become part of the court’s final order.
This can sometimes be accomplished without litigation through informal talks or mediation. However, advice and representation from an experienced divorce lawyer is strongly recommended. Unfortunately, divorces are often emotionally complicated affairs that impede complete agreement between the parties. Parents who start off with the best intentions to create an amicable, workable schedule quickly get bogged down in the details and find that creating a parenting plan can be a complex, difficult task.
The Bergen County child custody attorneys at Herbert & Weiss, LLP can help you stay on track when creating a parenting plan and prevent an uncontested child custody issue from turning into a courtroom battle that is not in the children’s best interests.
Visitation, Custody, and Parenting Time
New Jersey courts refer to “parenting time” when they discuss time spent between each parent and their children. The general term includes both visitation and custody and applies regardless of whether the parent is custodial or non-custodial. Parenting plans are meant to establish each parent’s parenting time, whether that means visitation for the non-custodial parent or the custody of each parent when the parents share physical custody roughly equally.
If one parent is awarded sole physical custody, the other parent is usually granted visitation rights. The noncustodial parent typically has the right to spend time with the child on a schedule determined by the court or by mutual agreement between the parents.
Common Parenting Plan Structures
A parenting plan is meant to dictate the physical custody arrangement of any shared children. Plans can take many forms, and generally, courts will approve any parenting plan that fits the parents’ schedules so long as it serves the children’s best interests.
Parents typically begin with one of the following plan structures:
- Shared physical custody. Shared physical custody involves roughly equal apportionment of physical custody with each parent. The children may alternate houses each week or every two weeks, or even shorter blocks of time for younger children. The parents can determine how to share custody according to their schedules and the schedules and needs of the children.
- Sole physical custody. Sole physical custody is less common. The plan may set out the non-custodial parent’s visitation, including limitations or requirements such as supervision during the visits as necessary. Courts typically prefer such limitations to be temporary, preferring liberal visitation instead.
- Primary and alternate residential parents. This arrangement involves one parent with primary physical custody, while the second parent takes regular custody on a set schedule. For example, the non-custodial parent may take custody each weekend or every other weekend, and schedule regular parenting time activities such as weekly dinners or other parent-child outings.
Parenting plans work best when they are detailed. They should include specifics concerning legal and physical custody designations, descriptions of any periods where alternate schedules will govern (such as during summer vacation from school), transportation, parenting time during birthdays and other family holidays, as well as any other specifics necessary to keep the arrangement running smoothly.
"Best Interests of the Child" Standard
The primary factor considered in child custody cases in New Jersey is the best interests of the child. The court aims to ensure that the child's physical, emotional, and developmental needs are met when making custody decisions.
Mediation and Custody Evaluation in NJ
In many cases, the court may require parents to participate in mediation or custody evaluation to try and reach a mutually agreeable custody arrangement. Mediation involves the assistance of a neutral third party to help parents negotiate custody terms. A custody evaluation may involve an assessment by a mental health professional who evaluates the parents, child, and their interactions to make recommendations to the court.
Modification of NJ Custody Orders
Custody orders are not set in stone and can be modified if there is a substantial change in circumstances or if it is in the best interests of the child. However, the parent seeking the modification must demonstrate a significant change in circumstances to warrant a modification.
Here to Help with Your Child Custody Needs
Our Bergen County child custody lawyers are with you whenever child custody decisions need to be made, including post-divorce modifications due to parental relocation or shifting needs of the children. Count on our experienced family law attorneys to find a practical and creative solution to your unique situation that is best for your family.
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