New Jersey Child Custody Attorneys
Experienced Custody Lawyers in Marlton & Northfield
When a couple with children divorces, one of the most contentious issues can be who gets custody of the kids. Even in cases where the divorce is amicable it is often difficult for parents to reach an agreement about custody on their own. Emotions can run high making an already stressful time even more difficult.
In some instances, parents see custody as a battle they must “win,” and the children become pawns in the divorce proceedings. Sadly, there are parents who pose a threat to a child’s well-being, making the issue of custody even more important. Whatever your situation, the compassionate child custody attorneys at Burnham Douglass will fight to protect your rights as a parent and achieve the best legal outcome for you and your family.
Types of Custody in New Jersey
In New Jersey, there are two main types of custody: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody refers to where the child resides and often one parent is designated as the primary residence and the other parent as the alternate residence. Legal custody refers to the right to make important decisions for the child such as for their education and health, etc.
Child custody arrangements in New Jersey can include:
- Sole physical custody (residential custody): When a child lives with one parent most of the time, but is able to spend some time with the other parent.
- Joint physical custody (residential custody): When the child resides with both parents and has to split his/her time in between two households.
- Sole legal custody: When one parent is able to make major life decisions over a child without having to consult the other parent.
- Joint legal custody: When both parents share the responsibility of making major decisions for a child and agree to consult each other on most decisions.
Our firm will work closely with you to help determine the ideal arrangement for your situation.
How is Child Custody Decided?
In New Jersey the courts are charged with serving the best interests of the child. It is often assumed that the courts favor mothers in child custody cases however the court must consider both parents as equal parties when deciding who should get custody. There are several factors that are taken into account when determining child custody after a divorce.
Courts in New Jersey determine custody based on:
- The physical and mental health of both parents
- The child’s age, sex, and mental health
- The child’s relationship with both parents
- The distance between the parents’ homes
- The stability of each home environment and each parent’s lifestyle
- If the child has any special needs
- The child’s preference (depending on their age and maturity)
- Each parent’s ability to provide for the child (food, shelter, clothing, medical care, etc.)
- The child’s established living situation regarding their school, community, religious institution and the impact of changing the status quo
- The quality of the child’s current education
- If parents are capable of cooperating with each other
- The work schedules of both parents
Maybe you and your ex have a good idea of what kind of custody arrangement would make sense for your family, but need help working out the details. Our experienced child custody attorneys can help you craft a plan for custody that has the best interest of your child at heart. You can create a parenting plan that addresses the issue of both legal and physical custody and states how time with the child will be divided between the parents. A good parenting plan serves the needs and interests of all parties so that future conflict and strife can be avoided.
Remember that if you and your ex cannot reach an agreement about how you will co-parent your child then the court will make that decision for you. The court’s decision is binding and enforceable even if one of you disagrees with the order. However, if you are able to work out and present a fair arrangement, the court will most likely adopt what you have agreed upon.
What is a Child Custody Evaluation?
In the situation of an extremely contentious divorce where the parents cannot agree upon child custody or when one parent claims that the other is “unfit,” the judge may call for a child custody evaluation. This is a report by a trained mental health professional that recommends who should be awarded custody. A custody evaluator is usually also experienced as a child therapist or psychologist. In addition to gathering information to understand your family’s situation, the evaluator will interview you, your spouse, and your child separately to make sure the child can speak freely. They will also interview teachers, babysitters, extended family members and friends, and examine health and school records as part of their report. A parent can request a custody evaluation even if the judge does not.
After completing an evaluation, the custody evaluator will submit a report simultaneously to the court, and you and your spouse. The report may comment on any substance abuse or mental health issues, make recommendations for family or individual therapy, talk about how to deal with future family conflicts, and make recommendations for custody, visitation, and time-sharing.
What Should I Know About Child Custody Evaluations?
The custody evaluator can be assigned by the judge, your lawyer can recommend one, or you and your spouse can pick an evaluator yourselves. You can even each hire your own evaluator if you find it impossible to agree. Keep in mind that the court’s evaluator is hired by the county and most likely has a lower rate than a private evaluator.
If you are unhappy with any part of the evaluation process, it is important to address the issue before the report is issued. Your lawyer can inform the judge that you find the evaluator to be biased for instance. Once the report has been submitted, if you find the recommendations unfavorable you can contest the findings in court. A judge is not obligated to follow the recommendations made by the evaluator, especially if you can show they are not in the best interests of your child.
Changing or Modifying a Child Custody Order
While it can be difficult to modify an existing child custody order, if a family’s circumstances change substantially then an order may need to be updated. The court’s main interest is the stability of the child’s situation so you will need to show that the current order is no longer serving the child’s best interests. When a court agrees to review your case it will consider the same determining factors as when it issued the initial order.
Northfield Child Custody Attorneys at Burnham Douglass Will Ensure Your Children’s Best Interests Are Protected
Child custody issues are difficult to face, but our Northfield child custody attorneys at Burnham Douglass can help you find a solution. Call us at 856-372-5107 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Marlton and Northfield, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Evesham Township, Marlton, Cherry Hill, Voorhees, Trenton, Northfield, Linwood, Atlantic City, Pleasantville and surrounding towns in Atlantic County, Burlington County, Camden County, and Mercer County.