With a first-time divorce rate hovering at around 50 percent, the courts of New Jersey - and those across the country - have handled countless child custody, support and parenting time disputes. Sometimes, parents can decide among themselves upon a fair custody and parenting time (also known as "visitation") schedule that gives them both the opportunity to maintain a quality relationship with their children in spite of the difficulties inherent when a marriage ends.
In other situations, though, court involvement is necessary. While it's true that our state's courts have handled thousands of custody proceedings, the same isn't true of every family facing a dispute. By understanding the basic process by which a judge will make a custody decision, and the laws guiding that decision, it will make the proceeding less stressful for you and, if you know how best to prepare, it will give you a sense of control over the outcome.
New Jersey's family court judges don't make their custody determinations in a vacuum or based upon their initial impressions of the parents in a courtroom. Judges are guided by time-tested laws and regulations to help them determine what sort of custody and parenting time arrangement is in the "best interests of the children" involved.
When deciding upon a parenting plan that is right for a particular family's situation, judges need to consider both the physical custody of the child (where the child will live), and the legal custody (who will be able to make important life decisions on behalf of the child). After a judge has made a decision, the parameters are put into a "parenting plan" that both parents must follow or risk civil - or even criminal - sanctions.
It is possible to successfully co-parent after a divorce or break-up; being flexible, encouraging your child to have a relationship with his or her other parent, and keeping your child's best interests in mind will make the process more workable for everyone involved.
Source: New Jersey Judiciary, "Parenting time: a child's right," New Jersey Courts et. al, accessed May 22, 2014.