Litigation over issues of child custody can be a highly emotionally charged process. Both parents want what is best for their children, and it is optimal if the parents can come to an amicable agreement regarding what best suits their children. Unfortunately, this is not always possible, and that is when a trial court will have to make the decision on who has custody, how often parenting time will be, and any other child-related issue. When making a decision on custody, a trial court will be guided by what is in the child’s best interest.
“Best interest” in this context is actually a legal term of art. New Jersey law has a set of very particular factors that a judge will examine. These factors include:
– the parents’ ability to communicate and agree
– the parents’ ability to accept a custody order and not block parenting time
– the way the child interacts with his or her parents and siblings
– Any history of domestic violence
– Preference of the child, if the child is of sufficient age to make the decision
– Needs of the child
– Stability of the proposed home environment
– Quality and continuity of the child’s education
– How close the parents’ homes are to each other
– Quality and amount of time each parent spent with the child before the separation
– Each parent’s employment and responsibilities
– Age and number of children
Children crave and require stability and continuity. Obviously the factors above are designed with stability in mind. Courts will strive to keep the child’s home life as stable as possible, even though a divorce or family splitting up is an unstable time, by its very nature. It’s also important to note that the parents’ behaviors weigh in. If parents can cooperate and treat each other respectfully, despite the divorce or separation, the courts will keep that in mind when determining how to divide parenting time. Courts may also give some deference to the fact that one parent historically was the primary caregiver, and keep that in mind when making a custody decision. However, both parents have equal rights to the children.
A child may voice his or her preference to the court if that child is of sufficient maturity to do so. However, a child’s preference is only a factor; a child does not “choose” where he or she wants to live, although a court will take the preference into account.
The ultimate issue of what is in a child’s best interest is a subjective subject. It is important to have an experienced attorney to provide insight and guidance when making a child custody case. Contact us today at (732) 529-6937 to discuss your children and your goals.