What divorcing parents should know about child custody in New Jersey

If you are a parent facing the prospect of divorce in New Jersey, you may be understandably concerned about how the end of your marriage could affect your relationship with your children. Whether you and your spouse have already decided to divorce or are just beginning to think about it as a possibility, it can be helpful to have a basic understanding of the laws that govern child custody and visitation issues when parents divorce in New Jersey.

Child custody basics

One thing that many people do not realize about child custody until they go through a divorce is that it actually consists of two different sets of rights, known as physical custody and legal custody.

Physical custody is what many people think of when they hear the term "child custody" - it means having your child live with you and being responsible for his or her care and supervision on a day-to-day basis. When New Jersey parents divorce, they may either share physical custody of their children, which typically involves moving the children back and forth between households according to a fixed schedule, or one parent may be granted sole physical custody. When one parent is named as the sole physical custodian of a child in New Jersey, the other parent usually receives visitation rights, which allow him or her to spend time with the child on a regular basis even though they do not live together.

Legal custody is a separate set of rights that refers to your authority to make important decisions affecting your children's welfare and upbringing. For example, if you are granted legal custody of your child in New Jersey, you will have the right to be involved in decisions about where the child will go to school, what medical care he or she receives, and what his or her religious upbringing will be. Like physical custody, legal custody in New Jersey may be shared by both parents or granted solely to one parent.

How child custody is determined

In many cases, divorcing parents in New Jersey are able to work out their own child custody agreements, often with help from their attorneys. Negotiating an agreement out of court in this manner has the advantage of giving you and the other parent more control over the final outcome, but it also requires that you be able to work together and compromise in order to reach an agreement - which is not always possible.

If you and your ex-spouse cannot agree on a parenting plan, New Jersey law requires that the matter be settled by a judge who will issue an order for child custody according to what he or she determines to be in the children's best interest. Because this standard is highly subjective and involves a complex analysis of many different factors, it is wise to seek help from an attorney who can advise you of your rights and advocate on your behalf to help you secure a parenting plan that meets your needs and the needs of your children.