Custody and Visitation
In New Jersey, both parents have equal rights to the custody of children and the law encourages both parents to share in the rights and responsibilities of child rearing. (N.J.S.A. 9:2-4).
In family actions in which the Court finds that the custody of children is a genuine and substantial issue, the Court will refer the case of mediation. If mediation is unsuccessful, the Court may require an investigation to be made by the county probation office of the character and fitness of the parties. The probation office must file a written report with the Court within 45 days after they receive the Court's Order requiring the investigation. (R.5:8-1).
The Court may, at the request of one of both parties, appoint an expert (usually a psychologist) to conduct evaluations of the parties and the children. In making custody determinations, the Courts rely heavily on the expertise of psychologists and other mental health professionals.
In making a determination of custody, the Court's primary consideration in New Jersey is "the best interests of the children." If the Court is called upon to make a custody determination, it must consider, but not be limited to, the following factors:
There are two types of custody:
a. Sole Custody: An award of sole custody to one parent gives that parent residential custody of the children and the power to make all decisions concerning the health, education, and general welfare of the children.
b. Joint Custody: An award of joint custody is comprised of two elements - legal custody and physical custody.
2. Parenting Time
Both parents have a constitutional right to enjoy a relationship with their children. In almost every case, absent the most extreme circumstances, the noncustodial parent will be afforded parenting time with the children, both during the divorce litigation and after.
Even in the most extreme case, the Court will seek to accommodate the natural rights of the parent to reasonable parenting time. However, parenting time may be terminated in extreme circumstances.
A parent's failure to pay child support Ordered by the Court is no defense to a denial of that parent's parenting time. Child Support and parenting time are not intertwined.