Unmarried parents often are involved in litigation involving paternity, custody, child support and parenting time concerns. According to New Jersey Divorce Statutes 9:2-4, the court may give either parent custody after taking into consideration several factors, such as:
1. The parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child;
2. The parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse;
3. The interaction and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings;
4. The history of domestic violence, if any;
5. The safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent;
6. The preference of the child when of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision;
7. The needs of the child;
8. The stability of the home environment offered;
9. The quality and continuity of the child’s education;
10. The fitness of the parents;
11. The geographical proximity of the parents’ homes;
12. The extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to the separation;
13. The parents’ employment responsibilities; and
14. The age and number of the children.
While physical custody relates to where the children are staying, legal custody is the ability of the parties to make important decisions for the children (i.e. education, religion, medical, etc.).
Joint legal custody is where the parties both have decision-making authority and must agree with one another.
Sole legal custody is where one parent has the authority to make these decisions on their own.
The best interests of the children are the paramount concern in any legal analysis of a custody decision. The standard has been described as one that protects the safety, happiness, physical, mental and moral welfare of the child. If parents cannot agree on the custodial relationship, the Court can order a custody evaluation and determine what is in the children’s best interests.
After a custody determination is made, Courts will often review the issue of child support. Child support is an ongoing, periodic payment made by a parent for the financial benefit of a child following the end of a marriage or other relationship. In the State of New Jersey, it is the responsibility of each parent – both mother and father – to make sure his or her child has enough food to eat, clothes to wear and a safe place to live. Still, some children do not get the support they need. Regardless of their living situation or relationship, both parents should provide the financial, medical and emotional support a child needs to grow into a responsible adult.
Under the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines, the child support award covers fixed costs, including shelter and shelter-related costs; variable costs, including the cost of transportation and food for the child; and controlled costs, such as clothing, personal care, entertainment, and other miscellaneous expenses. The child support award also includes the first $250 of unreimbursed medical expenses per year, per child. Certain predictable, recurring expenses also may be added onto the child support award, such as work-related child care; health insurance (the marginal cost of adding a child to a health insurance plan); and predictable, recurring, unreimbursed health care expenses (in excess of the first $250 per child, per year). Other expenses may be added in as well, such as costs related to special needs and visitation transportation expenses.
Talk to an experienced family law attorney if you have any questions regarding custody or child support. Call (973) 813-8100 for a free consultation.