The majority of divorced parents in New Jersey share legal custody, while arranging for one parent to have primary physical custody. That means the children live with one parent most days of the week, but both parents have the right to participate in making decisions for the child's health and well-being. These decisions include the big issues, such as healthcare, education and religious practices. Then there are the day-to-day issues, like what types of food are considered “healthy” and what kind of music and TV shows are appropriate at certain age levels. These decisions are typically made by the primary custodian, but the courts have no shortage of cases in which the other parent objects based on what they believe is an abuse of parental discretion.
Whether one sees these issues as legitimate concerns or parental micromanagement depends on one's personal beliefs, but what's important to the courts is whether a parent's decision goes against the child's best interests. The New Jersey family courts have been careful not to overstep the bounds of common sense and reasonable discretion when dealing with custodial disputes. While they have a judicial duty to protect the child from physical, mental and emotional harm, the best interests standard should not be be overly inclusive to the point that parents can use it to restrict or unreasonably infringe upon the other parent's rights. Of course, not all parents object to the other parent's decision with the intent of being unreasonable. Some parents are genuinely concerned about their children being exposed to certain elements too early, whether it be full contact sports or rock music.
In such cases, the courts encourage parents to use common sense in order to avoid parental deadlock. Is a concert by a specific artist really dangerous for the child, considering that the child is already listening to his or her music, and watching music videos, concert footage, etc., on YouTube? In that case, the other parent taking the child to that artist's concert, which was attended by many other children, is probably a reasonable use of parental discretion. Contact sports like tackle football, on the other hand, do often result in injuries, which is why organizations like the CDC issue age recommendations for children. Thus, if a parent finds out that the other parent has enrolled their 9 year old son in a Pee Wee football league known for being aggressive on the field, that may be cause for concern.
If at all possible, these disagreements should be resolved outside of the courtroom. Private mediation, therapy sessions, or discussions with, or through your attorneys are helpful in most cases. Court intervention should only be requested after private dispute resolution methods have failed. Litigation, after all, is likely to cause all kinds of friction that will will undoubtedly be felt by your kids. For more information on your legal custody rights and legal options, please speak with the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.