By Christine Fitzgerald | Seiden Family Law, AAML NJ Fellow
Children are the most important consideration in any family law matter, in which the parties have children in common, and sometimes, even when they do not have children in common. When potential clients come in for a consultation, they often have an idea of what they want for parenting time or the custodial arrangement. But they often are missing key issues or have a misunderstanding of the law or of custody and parenting time in general. These are seven of the numerous things to know about custody arrangement in New Jersey:
1. One Size Does Not Fit All: Every family is unique
Every custody arrangement is unique. You and your coparent can craft a custodial arrangement and parenting time schedule that works for YOUR family.
2. Legal And Physical Custody Are Different
Clients often come in and say I want full custody. In New Jersey, we have legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is who will make the major decisions for the children, such as educational decisions, medical decisions, and religious decisions. Physical custody is who will be deemed the Parent of Primary Residence of the children and what is the parenting time schedule.
3. Preference For Joint Legal Custody
In New Jersey, there is a strong preference for joint legal custody whereby the parties have to consult, confer and cooperate with each other to make major decisions affecting the best interest of the children together.
4. Designation of Parent of Primary Residence
There does not have to be a designation of Parent of Primary Residence in every case, even when one party has more parenting time with the children than the other parent. The designation is, however, in cases of 50/50 parenting time when the parties live in different school districts to determine where the children are going to attend school.
5. You Do Not Need To See The Future
Custody and parenting time are always modifiable if there is a substantial change in circumstances. When your children are little, you do not need to anticipate every decision or every possible change that could occur. You have the option of reviewing and modifying custody and parenting time so long as there is a substantial change in circumstances warranting a modification of the custody and/or parenting time.
6. Best Interest of the Child Rules
The standard that a Court will be considering your custodial arrangement, parenting time, and/or modification of either is what is in the best interest of the child. You should consider what you are proposing or requesting in those terms.
7. Holiday Parenting Time
Coparents often make the mistake of not thinking about how the holidays will play out in real life. If both coparents have families that live far away and far from each other and both coparents want to spend holidays with their respective families, then splitting the actual holiday (such as Thanksgiving Day or Easter Day) is not practical. Instead, consider alternating holidays so that one party gets Thanksgiving with the children in even years and the other in odd years. Think about your traditions and what makes most sense for you, your coparent and, most importantly, the children.
As number 1 above makes clear, there is no right way to craft your custodial arrangement. You have to determine what works for your children and your coparent. Your children are the most important part of your matter so creating a practical arrangement in their best interest is never wrong.