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Custody and Parenting Time in New Jersey

Often in a divorce, the main area in dispute is custody and parenting time of a child. Litigants can spend months of their lives and thousands of dollars fighting over their child.

Types of Custody and Parenting Time

There are two different types of custody – legal custody and residential custody. With regard to legal custody, there is sole legal custody or joint legal custody. In most cases, parents share joint legal custody. This means that parents have equal say in making decisions regarding the child’s health, education, religion, safety and welfare. With regard to residential custody, generally one parent is designated the Parent of Primary Residence.  The other is the Parent of Alternate Residence.

The Parent of Primary Residence is the parent with whom the child spends the greater number of overnights. The Parent of Alternate Residence will have parenting time based on a schedule that the parties either agree upon or is ordered by the Court.

Statistically speaking, 97%-98% of all divorce cases settle. Generally, it is not a matter of “if” a case will settle. The question is “when” a case will settle. Of the 2%-3% of cases that may go to trial, generally half of those cases settle during trial. Therefore, only a small number of cases are tried. If a case is tried, it may be because the parents cannot agree on how to share the time with their child.  Or, it may be who should be the Parent of Primary Residence.

Parent Education Workshop

The parents are required to attend a Parent Education Workshop at the outset of every case where custody or parenting time is an issue. At the workshop, a Superior Court Judge speaks to the parents about the Court process.  The Judge also discusses the effect divorce and divorce litigation have on children. Following the workshop, the parents (so long as a domestic violence restraining order is not in effect) are scheduled to participate in custody and parenting time mediation in an attempt to settle these issues.

Throughout the course of the divorce, parties will have the opportunity to settle the custody and parenting time issues of their case. If they do so through the mediation process or through their attorneys, there are certain areas that must be considered when addressing custody and parenting time in the divorce.

Marital Settlement Agreement

The details of a custody arrangement should be part of the Marital Settlement Agreement (“MSA”).  The MSA is a written and binding agreement entered into between the parties.  It addresses all issues arising out of the marriage, including:

  • The designation of joint or sole legal custody
  • Who will be the Parent of Primary Residence and Parent of Alternate Residence.
  • The delineation of a parenting time schedule for the Parent of Alternate Residence.
  • Language that obligates the parents to cooperate with each other as co-parents.  They need to commit themselves to placing the best interests of the child first.  This for all decisions concerning the child.
  • Language that both parents agree to not disparage the other parent to, in front of, or within earshot of the child.
  • Indication that each parent has equal and full access to all medical and dental information.  This includes reports and records rendered on behalf of the child.
  • Each parent has full access to all school-related information.  This includes receiving notification from the school as to events, schedules, conferences and the like.
  • Extracurricular activities, their scheduling, transportation of the child to the activities, how many activities the child will participate in, and what seasons the child will participate in which activity.
  • Religious issues such as what synagogue or church the child will attend and who will pay for the confirmation classes or the bar/bat mitzvahs.
  • Delineation of a holiday and vacation schedule. School breaks and recesses also need to be addressed.

Relocation

Additionally, a significant issue may involve one parent’s desire to relocate from New Jersey with the child. Neither parent can permanently relocate from New Jersey without the other parent’s written consent or a Court Order. In the event this issue is relevant, the MSA should address any potential relocation; if it is acceptable, and if so, the framework for the relocation.

The issues of custody and parenting time can be difficult to resolve because parents are attempting to divide the time of their most precious gift – their child. Both parents want to be with their child 100% of the time.  It is often very painful and difficult to tailor a schedule that is in the child’s best interest yet is also an acceptable compromise.

However, as divorce cases are likely to settle, the above considerations are important to address when custody and parenting time are in issue.

If you have questions about this post or any other family law matter, please contact me at jlawrence@lawlawfirm.com.

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