The dynamics of a family have evolved tremendously. We are no longer in a society where married parents with biological children no longer define what a family is. As such, family law issues have expanded and incorporate matters involving married and unmarried parents as well as biological and adoptive parents.
Regardless of what your family looks like or how it was established, when parents decide to no longer remain in a relationship or marriage, there are many serious decisions to make regarding the minor children involved. As such, it is important for New Jersey parents to understand the child custody process and what options they have now and in the future.
Child custody in New Jersey
Like all other states, there is a process to follow in New Jersey to obtain a formal order that details the custody of a child. In order to begin this process, a compliant must be filed in the court of the county where the child resides. The complaint is a motion for custody and must include the type of custody you seek, a proposed parenting plan and any genuine and substantial issues involved that impact custody or parenting time.
If the parents do not agree to the terms outlined in the complaint, the process will need to be litigated in court. However, before going to trial, it is mandatory in New Jersey for mediation to take place. The only exception is a domestic violence matter resulting in a final restraining order. The goal is to reach an agreement out of court and avoiding the need to litigate the matter.
If mediation is not successful or not an option due to domestic violence exception, the matter will move forward with litigation. It should be noted that when parents cannot resolve custody issues through mediation, law permits the court to conduct investigations before awarding custody to either parent.
The investigation process will consider various factors in the matter. This includes the character and fitness or each parent, the family’s economic condition, the homes and household members of each parent and the criminal record of each parent. During the trial, each side presents evidence to help the court make a custody decision based on the best interests of the child.
Navigating a child custody matter can get complex and emotional. As such, it is important to fully understand the process and explore your options. It is pertinent that you protect your rights as a parent while also ensuring the best interests of the child are met.