Our New Jersey Child Custody Attorneys Examine the “Best Interests of the Child” and New Jersey Custody Cases
If you have been involved in a New Jersey child custody or parenting time case, you’ve probably heard the phrase “best interests of the child.” New Jersey law mandates that the child’s best interests must be of paramount importance in every family law decision, but what does that phrase really mean?
Best Interests of the Child: Who Decides?
Divorced and separated parents in New Jersey are free to craft a child custody and parenting time plan without the involvement of the court. If they agree with each other that their agreement is in the best interests of their child and nothing is done to challenge that fact, then their plan will be followed.
However, if the parents are unwilling or unable to reach an agreement, or if the plan they conceive compromises the best interests of their child, then the court will intervene.
The judge in a New Jersey child custody case has specific factors to consider when deciding which parent would be best suited for legal and residential custody. These factors serve as guidelines to ensure that the final decision meets the “best interests of the child” standard that is required by New Jersey law.
Best Interests of the Child: Factors to Consider
The factors that a New Jersey court must take into consideration fall into four basic categories:
- Child’s Physical Health and Safety;
- Child’s Emotional Well-Being;
- Parents’ Co-Parenting Skills and Willingness; and
- Practical Concerns.
Child’s Physical Health and Safety
New Jersey courts hearing child custody or parenting time cases begin with the assumption that children generally benefit from a good relationship with both parents. For that reason, in most cases the judge will rule in a way that allows each parent ample parenting time to cultivate and maintain that relationship.
However, the child’s physical well-being is of utmost importance. If the court is convinced that a parent’s behavior puts the health or safety of the child in jeopardy, the judge will do whatever is necessary to protect the child. The judge may order supervised parenting time or ban overnight visits; he or she may even suspend that parent’s custody rights.
Child’s Emotional Needs
When deciding how to best meet the child’s emotional needs, the court must consider the following questions:
- Does each home provide a stable environment?
- To what extent did each parent participate in the child’s care before the separation?
- To what extent did each parent participate in the child’s care since the separation?
- How can siblings be kept together?
- How does the child interact with each parent?
- If the child is able to make a mature decision, does he or she have a preference?
Each parent’s ability and willingness to communicate and co-operate with the other regarding parenting issues will be a factor in the judge’s decision. The court does not take kindly to one parent’s attempt to interfere with the child’s relationship with his or her other parent.
There are several practical considerations that must be addressed when crafting a workable child custody plan that is in the best interests of the child:
- the work hours and responsibilities of each parent;
- whether or not the child can remain in the same school;
- the number of children in each home; and
- the ages of the children in each home.
Best Interests of the Child: Court’s Discretion
Because there are specific factors that the judge must consider, it might seem that the decision regarding the granting of legal and residential custody is very objective. However, there is no provision in the law that describes how much emphasis must be placed on each factor. Therefore, the court has a certain amount of discretion when deciding the importance that should be given to each.
Judges vary in the emphasis they place on each factor; however, many place a great deal of importance of the bond between the child and his or her primary caregiver.
On the other hand, a parent with a history of domestic violence will probably not be granted custody.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide legal advice. If you have a question about divorce, child custody, parenting plans, or any other family law issues, contact a qualified New Jersey family law attorney for advice.
Do you need help with a divorce, child custody, parenting time plan, or any other family law matter? The experienced New Jersey divorce and family law attorneys at Aretsky Law Group, P.C., can help.
Contact us 24/7 at 1-800-537-4154 for an initial consultation.