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A Detailed Glance at Child Custody
Legal Custody of the children is commonly viewed as the parent or parents, in the case of joint custody, with whom the decision making authority rests. Authorities generally agree that when both parents are able to communicate with one another it is in the children's best interest that both parents remain equally active in major decisions concerning the children's health, education and welfare. Joint legal custody is a stated public policy in New Jersey.
Physical Custody - The Real Problem
When parents are separated or about to be separated, the real issue of custody is that of physical custody. Except in rare cases where one parent is incapable of parenting and supervising a child, the law provides an unbiased equal right to the physical custody of the children ( in reality, however, many Judges still adhere to the belief that the woman's place is in the home with the children ). Parents possessing basic skills of parenthood will ordinarily have co-parenting time with their children on alternating weekends, alternating holidays and large blocks of time on summer vacations from school and other school closings. The term " visitation " has been replaced with " co-parenting " because most judges and mental health professionals acknowledge that time spent with children is not "visitation" but is actual "parenting " time. Thus, a contested physical custody dispute centers around those evenings prior to school days which are Sunday through Thursday evenings. When one considers the parents' work schedules, the children's extra-curriculum activities and the children's own social schedule, a contested physical custody dispute may only involve a very few hours a very few evenings per week. When explained in this fashion, a negotiated or mediated settlement is easily facilitated. The family therapist, psychologists, and mediators are often called upon to mediate custody/co-parenting disputes.
Children's Preference to Custody
Contrary to the belief of many, there is no set age at which a child can testify in Court. So long as the child is mature and can express an opinion, the Court will conduct an in-camera ( not open to the public ) interview with the child at which time the child will be asked questions concerning preferences of custodial arrangements. The court, upon request, must interview children 7 years of age or older. Discretion is advised for children below age 7. The Court will either transcribe the interview or record the interview. Children may tell a parent that they want to live with them and may sometimes tell the other parent that they want to live with them, but often the children tell the Court that they want both parents and wished they were not undergoing divorce.
New Jersey is an equitable distribution state, meaning that the division of property in a divorce is to be done fairly, not necessarily equally. The court can take into consideration any factor it deems relevant when dividing property, but it must consider certain factors, such as how long the couple was married and the age and health of both spouses, the income or property brought to the marriage by each spouse, the standard of living that was achieved during the marriage, and the extent to which one spouse may have deferred career goals, among others.
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"A Plain English Guide to Protecting Your Children"
Author: Mary L. Boland, Attorney at Law
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