Although divorce is the most common scenario in which visitation and child custody rights are sought in New Jersey courts, there are also many situations in which these rights don't relate to the end of a marriage. For example, unmarried couples might seek custody and visitation agreements through the court system. Third parties, often the relatives of the children involved in a custody action, could act on behalf of a child who is suffering from parental neglect or other negative living situations. All states have some form of visitation laws to protect the rights of grandparents as well, which could result in legal action in some cases.
When a custody case involves unmarried parents, sole physical custody is typically awarded to the mother if the father takes no action to the contrary. However, the quality of parenting could play a role in a judge's decision. If a father is the primary caretaker, he might receive custody in case of a dispute. Visitation rights and legal custody may still be awarded to the non-custodial parent. In some cases, parents reach their own agreements without going to court.
When a third-party request for custody occurs, the court may seek information about the relationship between that individual and the child. Additionally, the whereabouts of the parents must be established, and the reason for the request for custody must be provided. Grandparents might seek to obtain visitation rights if a custodial parent is interfering with any efforts to cultivate a relationship with a grandchild.
Because each state's laws are unique, the assistance of a family law attorney is advisable to handle custody or visitation issues across state lines. A custodial party might move with a child to another state to minimize contact between their child and another party, and there might be a need to identify the proper jurisdiction for any formal request to exercise one's parental or grandparent rights.