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New Jersey Family Law Blog

Custody and visitation in non-divorce settings

In New Jersey, a child custody case does not always necessarily mean that a divorce is taking place. Child custody is an issue that may need to be resolved if the parents are unmarried or if another family member wants custody or visitation rights.

In a case where parents are unmarried, a mother generally has primary custody rights unless a father tries to get rights as well. If the mother is a fit parent, it is unlikely that the father can get sole custody. However, the father may also be awarded some custody or visitation rights. Just as would be the case with parents who were getting a divorce, custody and visitation rights may be negotiated between the parents or decided by a judge.

Reasons to consider nesting after a divorce

New Jersey parents who are considering ending their marriages and for whom joint custody might be a good solution may want to consider an arrangement called "nesting'. In such a scenario, parents still share physical custody, but the children remain in their home while parents take turns staying in the house for an agreed-upon length of time.

For example, one couple decided that they would spend one week at a time in the house and that Sunday would be the day they switched. They rented an apartment nearby that they shared and continued the arrangement for about 18 months. Although they switched to a more conventional joint custody arrangement when one found a new partner, they said their experience gave them a better idea of what their children faced in going back and forth between households. Furthermore, they felt their children were better adjusted after a year and a half in the family home.

Tips for helping children deal with divorce

New Jersey parents whose marriages are ending might be concerned about how they are going to help their children through the process. Parents should not hide the impending divorce from their children, and they should try to be together when they tell them. Children should be reassured that the divorce is not about them and will not affect their relationship with their parents. They should also be encouraged to communicate about their feelings and ask questions. If children do not initiate conversations about the divorce, parents should do so.

Parents should avoid speaking negatively about one another or involving children in any conflict. A parent should not try to use a child to manipulate the other parent. Stability and flexibility are key. This means that while things will not always go as planned, parents should focus on minimizing any discord for the sake of the children.

How a husband's job status affects divorce

A study that was published in 2016 examined more than 6,300 couples to identify likely causes of divorce. Based on the findings that spanned 46 years, couples in New Jersey and throughout the country may be more likely to divorce if the husband is not working full time.

The study found a spike in divorces starting in the mid-1970s as more women entered the workforce, but overall, divorce did not seem to correlate to more economic independence for women. Household chores also did not appear to be an issue. However, when the husband did not work full time, in any given year, there was a 3.3 percent chance that the couple would divorce. For couples in which the husband did work full time, the chance dropped to 2.5 percent.

Relationships ending over political differences

New Jersey couples may be more likely to divorce over political differences than in past years according to a survey from Wakefield Research that assessed the effects of politics on both married and unmarried couples. According to the survey, 10 percent of people had broken up with a partner over political disagreements. Millennials had an even rate higher rate of ending their relationships over politics of 22 percent. Of the 1,000 people surveyed, 22 percent also said they knew a couple whose relationship had suffered specifically because of the election of President Trump.

The study reported that while money tends to be one of the most common points of conflict for couples, over the past six months, over 20 percent of people said they had disagreed more with their partner about Trump than they had about finances. Almost one-quarter of people in relationships said that since the presidential election, they had more disagreements with their partner about politics than ever before.

Blocking communication with noncustodial parents

New Jersey divorced parents who do not reside with their children can easily contact them via texting, calling or FaceTiming. However, there may be times when a custodial parent may want to stop the noncustodial parent from doing so.

Family courts are not eager to issue an order barring communication with the noncustodial parent unless there is a valid reason such as abuse or neglect. Without such an order, a parent cannot legally prevent the other parent from communicating with their child. If this does occur, the parent who is being blocked will have legal recourse. The family courts will likely create schedules and rules for telephone calls if there are disputes about too many video calls, text messages or phone calls the noncustodial parent makes, or if communication with the child has been completely denied.

What to do if one parent has substance abuse problems

A New Jersey parent who is concerned about the other parent's substance abuse and who is going through a divorce should bring up the substance abuse at the custody hearing. The parent should also bring any documentation that can support the allegations. It is important to demonstrate that the substance abuse is harmful to the child in some way as well. A judge will be examining the fitness of both parents and making a decision that is in the child's best interests.

If a parent finds out that the other parent is abusing drugs or alcohol after a custody agreement is in place, what the parent does next will depend upon how much danger the child may be in. For example, it might be necessary to take out a restraining order against the other parent. If the parent feels the child is unsafe, the parent might also deny visitation.

Divorce ahead for actor Jesse Williams

New Jersey fans of actor Jesse Williams, who stars on the TV show "Gray's Anatomy," may have heard that he is getting a divorce from his wife of nearly five years, Aryn Drake-Lee. She is a real estate broker. The couple have been together for around 10 years and have two children together, a 3-year-old daughter and a son who is almost 2.

Williams, who filed for divorce, has asked for joint legal and physical custody of the children. He has also requested a termination of spousal support.

Preparing for a custody battle

New Jersey parents involved in a custody battle obviously want a favorable outcome from litigation, and several factors are considered when determining child custody. Parents must understand what courts are looking for to meet a judge's standards.

Judges assess which parent is 'better" using the state's guidelines for child custody, so parents should familiarize themselves with what the court considers acceptable and proper. When going to court, a parent should bring all the necessary documentation that a judge needs to see and must be able to comply with court etiquette. This includes looking presentable, being polite and respecting court rules.

How child support should be used

Despite the fact that both parents are legally mandated to support their children, child support often goes unpaid. One study in the 1990s found that while almost half of child support payments were in default, the same was true of only 3 percent of car loans. However, in some cases, a New Jersey parent might struggle to keep up child support payments because the amount has been set so high. In other cases, custodial parents might abuse the system by using the child support money for their own personal items.

Child support may be used for household expenses because this contributes to a safe and comfortable environment for the child. Child support may also go toward the child's clothing, food, school supplies and trips. It should not be used for solo restaurant meals or trips the parent takes without the child. Any leftover money at the end of the month should be set aside for any other child-related expenses that may arise.

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