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New Jersey Child Custody/Parenting Plan

It is New Jersey's public policy to assure that minor children have frequent and continuous contact with both parents after the divorce. In any custody proceeding, the court will treat the rights of both parents equally.

Child custody is comprised of legal and physical custody. Legal custody relates to a parent's authority and responsibility for making major decisions regarding the child's health, education and welfare. Physical or residential custody relates to where the children live. The primary standard of how the courts determine custody and parenting schedules is the "best interests of the child." This standard is designed to protect the safety, happiness, physical, mental and moral welfare of the child.

Generally, custody arrangements fall into one of three categories: sole custody, joint legal custody, or joint physical custody. Sole custody awards both the legal and physical custody to one spouse. Joint legal custody provides that both spouses have joint responsibility for all major decisions regarding the child's health, welfare and education. However, in a joint custody case, the court will usually designate one parent as the child's principal residence and determine a parenting plan for the other parent. Joint physical custody cases are really only feasible when the divorced spouses can reasonably cooperate with each other.

A court is required to examine the following criteria in determining the child's best interests:

  • The wishes of the parent or parents;
  • The wishes of the child;
  • The interaction of the child with parents, siblings and other influential persons;
  • Child's adjustment to home; and
  • The mental and physical health of all individuals involved.

In addition, the court must examine the factors set forth in the following N.J.S.A. 9:2-4:

  • The parents' ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child;
  • The parents' willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow visitation that is not based upon substantiated abuse;
  • The interactions and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings;
  • Any history of domestic violence;
  • The safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent;
  • The preference of the child if the child is of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to make an intelligent decision;
  • The needs of the child;
  • The stability of the home environment offered;
  • The quality and continuity of the child's education;
  • The fitness of the parents;
  • The geographical proximity of the parents' homes;
  • The extent and quality of the time spent with child prior to or subsequent to the separation;
  • The parents' employment responsibilities;
  • The age and number of children.

In New Jersey the most common form of custody is joint legal custody, and the wife/spouse has residential custody. It is always advisable to work out a reasonable shared parenting plan. Constant custody hearings and court appearances are a great way to waste money on legal fees, upset the children, and basically ruin your life. Remember, the children belong to both parents. Moreover, most counties now refer custody matters to mediation before any hearings are held. In my experience mediation is a great way to solve custody issues in a fair, inexpensive, and speedy manner.


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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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