The first thing you should understand about child custody when going through a divorce in New Jersey is that “physical” and “legal” custody are not equivalent. Legal Custody refers to which parent makes important decisions about the child’s health, education, and welfare. Physical Custody refers to the child’s primary residence. These two types of custody can be thought of in four categories explained as follows:
Shared Physical Custody
The child lives with each parent for an approximately equal amount of time on a rotating basis.
Joint Physical Custody
The child lives with one parent most of the time, but the other parent has parenting time.
Joint Legal Custody
Both parents consult with each other to make important decisions on behalf of the child, and both have access to the child’s personal records.
Sole Legal Custody
One parent is authorized to make important decisions on behalf of the child, and the other parent must be consulted, but the parent with sole legal custody has the final word.
Unless there is a real problem with one parent’s ability to parent or unless the parties cannot work together for the benefit of their child, courts favor joint legal custody.
According to Karen Meislik, a custody and visitation attorney in New Jersey, “in most instances, parents are given joint legal custody of their children.”
Court look at many aspects of a family’s relationship when asked to determine custody. They may consider what the child, if of sufficient age, has to say, and may look at the parents’ medical records, criminal records (if any), job histories, and similar items. However, according to the family law firm of Meislik & Levavy (www.meislikfamilylaw.com ), your chances of obtaining sole custody of your child are improved if you can show that you were the primary caregiver before and during the separation.
Proving that you were the primary caregiver
Which of the following statements are true, and cannot be said of the other parent?
● I arranged for daycare / babysitters
● I fixed breakfast for my child each day
● I took my child to doctor’s appointments
● I supervised my child most of the time
● I stayed at home from work when my child missed school
● I reviewed school report cards and helped with my child’s homework
● I disciplined my child in a responsible way
● I toilet trained my child
● I put my child to bed each night and/or woke my child each morning
● I attended parent – teacher conferences
● I took my child shopping for clothes and school supplies
Above all, the Court will assess the best interest of your child before any custody determination is made.
These, along with any other parental responsibilities you can prove, will help your visitation attorney obtain custody of your child for you.