In New Jersey, the terms for child custody and visitation are outlined in a parenting plan. Whenever possible, couples should work out a parenting plan on their own, through private methods such as mediation. Certain couples, however, may not be on speaking terms, or may be barred from meeting each other due to a restraining order. In this case, the superior court may order custody evaluations and risk assessments in order to determine the best possible parenting plan.
Coming up with a parenting plan requires consideration of many factors that are relevant to your marriage and household. These factors include, but are not limited to, the wishes of both the parents and children, the mental and physical health of all involved parties, and the children's relationship with each parent. The final custody arrangement will fall into one of the following categories:
- Sole Physical Custody
The word "sole" is a bit misleading, because it insinuates that only one parent has control over the children's care and welfare. However, sole physical custody only denotes the parent with whom the children live with most of the year. These plans typical allow the children to stay with the non-custodial parent for a certain amount of overnight visits during the week or year. The non-custodial parent also retains the right to make, or participate in making decisions on behalf of the children.
- Joint Physical and Legal Custody
This plan allows both parents to have equal, or close to equal time with their children. For example, the children will stay with one parent from Monday to Wednesday, then with the other parent from Thursday to Friday. Both parents also have the right to make decisions pertaining to their children's health and well-being. This plan might seem ideal, but sticking with it can be difficult based on your work schedules and personal responsibilities. In addition, the frequent shifts from one household to another may be physically and emotionally draining for your kids.
- Sole Physical and Legal Custody
New Jersey superior courts rarely award a parent with both sole physical and legal custody. This plan would give one parent sole control over all decisions pertaining to the children, in addition to housing them full-time. Because the other parent would have virtually no involvement with the children, there must be extreme circumstances such as mental illness, prolonged drug abuse or multiple incidents of neglect in order for judges to consider this plan. In most cases, the other parent is at least awarded non-overnight visits, which will likely be supervised.
These plans may sound straightforward, but figuring out which one is best for your family can be quite complicated. You may also have related questions about whether you can receive child support under joint custody, or if you are allowed to move with the children if you have sole physical custody. For answers to these and other divorce-related questions, please speak with the experienced family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.