Factors in determining child custody and visitation
When separated or divorced parents cannot agree on a custody arrangement and parenting time schedule, they can turn to the court to issue a custody order. When determining custody for a family, the court’s sole concern is to find a custody arrangement that is in the child’s best interest.
Courts Default to Shared Parental Responsibility
Today, state laws and court rules recognize the importance of children having a meaningful relationship with both of their parents when such a relationship is healthy and beneficial to the child’s development. Thus, courts often prefer custody arrangements and parenting time schedules where parents have roughly equal shares of parenting responsibility. In addition to joint legal custody, courts may try to ensure that the parenting time schedule is as close to a 50/50 split between parents, although practical factors such as the child’s school schedule, the parents’ work responsibilities, and the distance between the parents’ homes can make such a split infeasible.
Parents Can Reach Mutual Agreement without the Need for the Court’s Intervention
Courts also generally prefer to have parents come to a mutual agreement regarding custody and parenting time without the need for the court to impose an arrangement on a family, which is more likely to disappoint one or even both parents. If parents have trouble reaching an agreement on their own, courts can facilitate mediation between the parents so that a professional can help them work out any lingering disagreements over custody and parenting time.
Court May Appoint Third Parties to Represent the Child’s Interests
In cases where custody is hotly contested, courts may also appoint third parties to represent and advocate for the child’s interests. Courts may appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) to advocate for the child’s best interest. GALs frequently conduct independent investigations into each parent’s relationship with the child and the parent’s fitness to exercise their responsibilities.
When children are older, courts also may appoint an attorney to advocate for the child’s legal interest, which is the child’s preference for what kind of custody arrangement and parenting time schedule they want. Attorneys are typically appointed where there may be a conflict between the child’s legal interest and their best interest since the GAL has the responsibility of advocating for the child’s best interest. If there is no such conflict, a GAL may serve as the child’s legal representative as well.
What Factors Do Courts Look at to Determine a Child’s Best Interests?
Factors that courts take into account when determining whether a custody arrangement and parenting time or visitation schedule is in a child’s best interest include:
- The parents’ ability to communicate and agree on decisions involving the child
- Each parent’s willingness to facilitate parenting time and the relationship between the child and the child’s other parent
- The nature and quality of the relationship between the child and each parent
- Any history of domestic violence
- Any special care or needs of the child
- The stability of the home environment offered by each parent
- Continuity of the child’s education, extracurriculars, and social activities
- The proximity of the parents’ homes
- The fitness of each parent to provide appropriate parental care
- The parents’ employment responsibilities and ability to obtain childcare
- The age and number of children
- A child’s stated preference, if the child demonstrates sufficient maturity to intelligently express a reasoned preference
Contact a Clark Family Law Attorney for a Consultation About Child Custody in New Jersey Today
If you are thinking about filing for divorce, or if you have already started the divorce process and are dealing with another matter such as child custody, child support, or division of assets, you need to speak with a qualified attorney. The New Jersey family law attorneys at Team Law represent clients throughout the state, including Camden, Passaic, Union City, and Bayonne. We understand how challenging this time can be for you, which is why we will fight hard to protect your interests, and the interests of your loved ones, throughout the legal process. Call us at (732) 540-1394 or fill out our confidential contact form to schedule a consultation. We have an office conveniently located at 136 Central Ave., Clark, NJ 07066, as well as offices located in West New York, Perth Amboy, Edison, Summit, Newark, New Brunswick, Orange, Plainfield, and Jersey City.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.