In New Jersey, child custody orders are decided based on the best interests of the child. In general, two types of custody can be distinguished - physical and legal. Physical custody determines with whom the child lives and spends most of the time. Legal custody refers to the decision-making power concerning the essential aspects of a child's life.
It is presumed that spending time and maintaining a close relationship with both parents is good for the child, unless there is evidence to the contrary. Thus, joint custody is welcomed in New Jersey.
Joint custody means that both parents have to cooperate in making critical decisions (about a child's education, medical care, travels, etc.) and that both parents spend more or less equal time with a child.
Sole custody implies that one of the parents is the primary custodian, and the other parent has visitation rights according to the parenting schedule agreed upon by the parents or established by the judge.
Nevertheless, every divorce case is unique. Therefore, when deciding on child custody, the court considers a lot of factors to determine the best interests of the child in each particular situation. Factors considered include:
- the parents' ability to agree, communicate and cooperate regarding the child;
- the parents' willingness to accept custody and any history of unjustified withholding;
- the interaction and relationship of the child with the parents and other siblings;
- history of domestic violence;
- safety of the child and/or either parent from physical abuse by other parent;
- preference of child of sufficient age and capacity;
- needs of the child;
- stability of home environment;
- quality and continuity of child's education;
- fitness of parents;
- geographical proximity of parents' homes;
- extent and quality of time spent with child both before and after separation;
- parents' employment responsibilities; and
- age and number of children.