"In some very important ways, the person you walked down the aisle with when you married was a different "person" than who you will meet in Court for a contested custody case."
--Monmouth County Custody Attorney Steve Kaplan
The birth of a child changes people dramatically.
When adult relationships deteriorate to the point that a separation is imminent, people often panic over the thought of losing their opportunity to see their children every single day.
This is an understandable emotion. Indeed, since Biblical times, society has struggled with what to do when two parents claim rights to custody of a child. Monmouth County Family Court Judges today have it no easier than King Solomon did in the Old Testament when he was asked to decide between the conflicting claims to custody raised by two alleged mothers.
You may recall that the biblical story teaches that when King Solomon told the women that he would solve the problem by cutting the child in half and awarding each of them half, the fake mother stood silent while the real mother relented and said "no, let her have the child", thereby demonstrating to the King who the true mother was.
In most New Jersey child custody cases, the custody will be shared between both parents, with one parent being deemed the parent of primary residence (PPR) and the other parent being deemed the parent of alternate residence (PAR).
The courts will always try to decide child custody in the best interests of the children, rather than in the best interests of the parents.
But what does that really mean?
Judges in New Jersey obviously don't cut children in half, but they are called upon to make the difficult decision about who a child lives with and when.
The starting point is the NJ custody statute, which mandates that In making its decision on custody, a New Jersey Family Court Judge is supposed to consider:
- 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 parenting time.
- The interaction and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings.
- The history of domestic violence (if any).
- The safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse.
- The preference of the child when of sufficient age and capacity to reason.
- The needs of the child.
- The stability of the home environment offered.
- The quality and continuity of the child's education.
- The mental, emotional, and physical fitness of the parents.
- The geographical proximity of the parents' homes.
- The extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to the separation.
- The parents' employment responsibilities.
- The age and number of the children.
We settle most of our custody cases by crafting a custom made parenting time arrangement for both parents, with the input of both parents and by consent.
When necessary because the parties cannot work out a consent arrangement, a trial will take place.
After the trial, the Judge will consider the above factors together with the testimony of the parties in Court and other presented evidence, and the Judge will then decide the custodial terms in a written Court Order.