Custody Terminology 101

Custody is one of the most misunderstood legal concepts. When a client calls our office, we typically hear something about sole or full custody. Thanks to the internet and TV shows, custody terms are usually used incorrectly. We will try to give you the knowledge you need to speak about custody.

In New Jersey, there are two types of custody: legal and residential custody. When you talk about custody, you have to talk about these two types separately. Legal custody deals with decision making on major issues. In essence, legal custody means that you have the ability to make all major decisions regarding the child’s health, education, and welfare. There is something of a debate on whether something is a “major” decision, but typically parents share joint legal custody, meaning they have to make major decisions together. It is very rare to not have joint legal custody.

The other type of custody is residential custody. In simple terms, this is who the children live with. The parent who has more than fifty percent of the time with the children is known as the parent of primary residence. If one parent has all of the overnight with the children, they are known as the sole residential custodian. If the parents have exactly equal time with the children, they have joint residential custody. The majority of parents have an arrangement where one is the parent of primary residence and one is the parent of alternate residence.

Compared to legal custody, the parent who has residential custody makes all day-to-day decisions regarding the children. This means that the parent who has residential custody decides what the children eat, when they go to bed, what clothes they wear, and what their daily routine is when they are with that parent.

Once we have determined the legal custodial arrangement, we must decide what the residential custodial arrangement is going to be. The non-custodial parent, also known as the parent of alternate residence, will receive parenting time with the children. This can range from alternative weekends to equal time.

Decisions regarding custody are very important and can have grave consequences for your children. Understanding the options is the first steps to determining what is in your children’s best interest. If you want to learn more, contact our office at (732) 479-4711


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