Our Offices in Philadelphia & New Jersey
Assisting clients with child and joint custody cases
When a child is involved in a divorce settlement, the custody situation can vary greatly depending on the remaining relationship between parents. Ideally, child custody is agreed upon and abided by both parties in an effort to do what is best for the child. However, legal wrangling, family history, and personal developments can affect the outcome of a custody hearing. A judge can award either sole or joint custody depending on what appears to be the best situation for the child.
Sole custody means that both the child’s physical and legal rights are in the care of the custodial parent. The non-custodial parent maintains the parent-child relationship through defined visitation rights. As society has evolved into a less gender-biased culture, the New Jersey court systems have moved away from generally awarding sole custody to the mother. It is widely recognized that the active involvement of both parents is the best way to proceed, and the father’s role has enlarged over the years. To accommodate this shift in cultural roles, courts sometime award physical custody for one parent while both parents share legal custody, along with a generous visitation schedule.
However, in New Jersey, more often than not, award joint physical and legal custody. The court takes issues such as alcohol or drug dependency, child abuse charges, or neglect charges into account and will not hesitate to award sole custody if either parent is deemed unfit. The awarding of sole custody can cause much friction in a relationship, and it is generally not recommended to seek sole custody unless one parent is a direct harm to the children.
Joint Custody in New Jersey
Joint custody, also called shared custody, means that even though the parents don’t live together, they share the decision-making responsibilities and/or physical control and custody of their children. Joint custody could come as easily as an agreement between both parents, though court appointed joint custody is common as well, and can exist if the parents are separated, divorced, no longer cohabitating, or even if they have never lived together. Joint custody can be defined in several different fashions. Joint legal custody means that both parents are required to partake in legal responsibilities of the child. Joint physical custody means that children split significant time staying with each parent. The parents can also both be awarded (or agree to) joint physical and legal custody.
The awarding of shared joint custody means that both parents will need to reevaluate their lives and their schedules to maximize their quality time with their children. Agendas, housing arrangements, and other such factors have to be taken into account. This can cause friction or disagreement when one person feels the situation is not fair. If the parents cannot come to an agreement inside or outside of mediation, the courts will move forward to impose an arrangement. A common pattern is for children to split time at each parent’s home for weeks at a time. Joint custody options also include alternating years, six-month periods, or split weekend/weekday arrangements. When deciding the allocation of a child’s time, it is always important to keep the child’s best interest in mind.
There are many advantages to both the children and the parents when joint custody is awarded. The children have continued contact and involvement with both parents, and the burden of single parenting is alleviated when the child is away. As with any situation, there are disadvantages as well, primarily stemming from the fact that the children must adhere to a regimented schedule and be shuttled around to accommodate it. Also, depending on the existing relationship between parents, any tension or non-cooperation can cause seriously devastating effects on children. Maintaining two homes for the children can also be an expensive undertaking.
Petrelli Previtera can help you through this difficult time. We are committed to helping individuals with the transition and ensuring they have a fair and equitable resolution, while looking out for the best interests of the children.