When New Jersey parents decide to divorce, they will have decisions to make when it comes to choosing the right co-parenting schedule for their child or children. There are different types of child custody that may be right for each family, depending on the parents’ work schedules and the children’s needs. It is worth spending time thinking about how the co-parenting schedule will function into the future in order to make the right choice for the kids’ social development and emotional and physical health.
New Jersey child custody is not one-size-fits-all. Parents and their family law attorneys can work together to develop a plan that is based on the best interests of their child. A parenting plan should be practical, reasonable and achievable, designed for success rather than failure. Legal custody and physical custody are separate issues that parents need to consider.
Physical custody addresses where the child will live and spend time, while legal custody addresses the right to make decisions about how the child will be raised, educated, cared for and provided with medical treatment. Joint legal custody is very common in New Jersey. Even when one parent provides the primary home for the children, this ensures that both parents can actively participate in the lives of their children. While the parent with physical custody is responsible for daily decision-making, both parents must consult about major issues such as education and health care. Both parents are expected to always put the best interests of the children first.
When parents cannot live in the same town or city, or for whom work schedules make shared physical custody impossible, a parenting time schedule may include the child living permanently with one parent. Both parents fully intend to stay active in the lives of their children, but the family’s structure and situation mean that it makes sense for the child to live more with one parent than the other. While fully shared custody is increasingly common, this is perhaps the most common parenting plan for New Jersey parents and their family lawyers.
On the other hand, sole legal and physical custody for one parent is most common when the other parent is absent or considered unfit. This may also be the case in divorces with a history of child neglect, complaints to child protection authorities or active addiction. Here, one parent is the residential custodial parent but also has full authority over major decisions about the children’s welfare, including education, upbringing and health care. Sole custody is less common than it was in the past, with more parents committed to playing an active role in their children’s lives.
With shared legal and physical custody, both parents share not only the legal authority to oversee their children’s upbringing but also the day-to-day work of parenting. This represents a more equal division of parenting time. While the specific schedule chosen by each family may vary, it generally includes the child spending roughly the same amount of time at both parents’ homes. This is often a good choice when the child is close to both parents and when the parents live near enough to one another that frequent custody exchanges are feasible and non-disruptive.
Even when both parents are committed to shared custody, it can be a challenge to decide on the right co-parenting schedule. There are some options for you and your divorce lawyer to consider as you negotiate a parenting plan with your spouse.
When both parents want to maintain full involvement in their child’s life after they and their respective divorce attorneys finalize the marital settlement agreement, shared custody can be a great choice. This is also a good choice when families live in the same town or area, as the child will continue to attend the same school while shifting back and forth between their parents’ homes.
During the divorce settlement, parents and their family law attorneys create a parenting plan, a formal document that sets out a custody schedule and a framework for how the parents will work together to raise the children. This includes not only sharing time and expenses but also making decisions together for the kids.
Parents choosing shared custody generally want to achieve as close to a 50/50 time split as possible. At the same time, it can be important to consider how a schedule will affect the children’s extracurricular activities, academic needs and social life. A 50/50 schedule helps kids to feel secure that both parents are fully involved and keeps them close and engaged with both of their parents, without ever feeling like a visitor in one parent’s life.
Most parents choose a 2-2-3 schedule, where kids spend two days, two days, and three days with each parent in a rotating schedule. The weeks rotate so that each parent has some weeks with a larger amount of parenting time. Similarly, a 3-4-4-3 schedule divides custody into two-week blocks with parents having three and four days each week with the child before switching.
While 50/50 shared custody is an excellent goal for New Jersey parents and their family lawyers to achieve, it can be challenging for some parents. Work schedules and other obligations may make it difficult to achieve a full 50/50 schedule, even when both parents intend to stay fully active in a child’s life. These scheduling issues may not have presented a challenge when both parents shared one home, but they can be more difficult in two homes. Once again, older kids and teens may manage fine, but younger kids may need more attention and structure.
Some parents may choose a 4-3 schedule, where one parent has the child for four days and the other for three days, essentially a long weekend, every week. This schedule works well when work responsibilities prevent one parent from being fully present during the workweek. Similarly, some parents may choose a 5-2 schedule, where one parent covers every work week and the other every weekend.
Other parents may find that an every other weekend schedule, including a schedule with a three- or four-day weekend, works best for both work responsibilities and the child’s needs. It may become difficult to manage frequent custody exchanges along with a child’s social needs and academic interests, and the interests of the child should always come first.
Regardless of the custody plan they choose, parents can work together with their divorce attorneys to find a schedule to best show their love and commitment to their children.
If you are thinking about how to handle child custody and parenting plans during your divorce, a family law attorney may provide guidance for you throughout the process. Contact the experienced attorneys at Lawrence Law by calling 908-645-1000 or using our convenient, easy online form for a consultation at our Watchung or Red Bank, New Jersey, office.
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