Child custody can become one of the most stressful issues in any Bergen County divorce. Parents can reduce this stress by negotiating an agreement that both can accept. Ordinarily, courts will approve such agreements. However, if the parents cannot reach agreement on issues such as physical and legal custody, monthly support and general supervision, the courts will step in. Knowing ahead of time what factors are given the greatest weight by the court may help divorcing parents reach a mutually satisfactory agreement.

Child custody in New Jersey

The laws of New Jersey embrace two types of child custody: physical custody, including visitation, and legal custody, involving which parent has the power to make certain decisions for the child.

New Jersey judges usually give the greatest weight in any custody dispute to the best interests of the child. This test is extremely broad, but its component factors can be parsed and examined individually. A judge will first examine the quality of the relationships between the parents and each of their children. If the child is older than 12, the court will listen to the child’s preferences. Another crucial factor is the pre-divorce stability of the home environment. The courts will also examine the fitness of each parent in their respective roles of raising and nurturing the child. The ability and willingness of the parents to communicate constructively and openly about the welfare of the child also plays a role in evaluating each parent’s ability to serve the best interests of the child.

The factor that has the most negative effect on awarding custody is the existence of domestic abuse. If either parent has abused the other, or if either parent abused the child, that parent will have great difficulty in convincing a judge that he or she if a fit parent. If both parents have been abusive, the court may award custody to a third party, such as an adult sibling.

Planning ahead

The award of child custody can be difficult to predict. Anyone who is considering a divorce and has minor children may wish to consult an experienced divorce attorney for advice on how a custody dispute may be resolved.