Details of Child Custody and Support in New Jersey
There truly is no greater force on the planet than that of a parent’s love for a child. We see this manifestations of this and are reminded and humbled every day by it. When it comes to divorce, the one thing that is every spouse’s biggest concern is the children. The following sections will go over some of the biggest issues that comes up in divorce.
New Jersey recognizes two types of child custody:
- Legal Custody: This pertains to a parent’s access to school and medical records. New Jersey precedent prefers joint legal custody in all but extreme cases – for example, when there has been a history of child abuse.
- Physical Custody: This pertains to where the children will live. While it’s possible to have a 50/50 physical custody arrangement, you have to think hard about the feasibility of this option: complicating factors include the proximity of both parents’ residences, career obligations, etc.
Generally, in New Jersey there will be one “parent of primary residence” – the “custodial parent” – and one “parent of alternate residence,” allotted a certain amount of time with the children. If one parent gets the children for at least two nights a week this is considered joint custody. There are countless ways to split this time up, accounting for holidays, summers, weekends, weekday dinners, and travel. While you have legitimate desires to be acknowledged in these decisions, it’s important here, as with all other decisions directly pertaining to the children, to put their interests first.
If Both Parties Cannot Agree Upon Child Custody: If you and your spouse can’t agree on a child custody arrangement, the court will require you to attend mediation. You shouldn’t see this as an imposition, but as an opportunity to sit down with an experienced, impartial mediator and try to work creatively to put your children’s interests first.
If you can’t work out an arrangement in mediation, a judge will decide for you. The judge, too, will prioritize the interests of your children – but keep in mind that no one knows your children better than you and your spouse, despite any disagreements, ill-will, pain, or resentment you might harbor. It’s usually best to come to a decision together, rather than leaving it up to a judge.
Moving to Another State Before Divorce: Once you or your spouse has initiated divorce proceedings, the law prohibits you from moving a child out of state without the other parent’s agreement, unless you’ve obtained a court order lifting this restriction. Be careful: you could face kidnapping charges if you fail to observe the proper guidelines – and of course you’d lose custody of the child. Consult an experienced family law attorney if you have any questions.
When an Ex is Habitually Late for Visitation: If the non-custodial parent is late picking up or dropping off your child, you can take your former spouse to court to file a motion to reduce the amount of visitation time he or she has.
When an Ex Won’t Allow Child to Travel: As the custodial parent, you have the right to take your children on trips, even outside of the country. If the non-custodial parent is refusing to allow this travel, refusing to allow your child to obtain a passport, or otherwise attempting to prevent you from traveling with your child, you can go to court and file a motion against the non-custodial parent. If you can demonstrate good reason why the child ought to be allowed to travel outside of the country, the judge will generally grant your motion.
If Your Ex is Consuming Alcohol and/or Drugs: If you suspect your children are in danger because your former spouse is drinking, using drugs, or exhibiting uncontrolled anger, you need to correct this as quickly as possible, enlisting a skilled and experienced attorney to take your concerns to court. You must file a motion in court, and provide evidence substantiating your claims. The court will consider your motion and could either change the parenting time arrangement, or take steps to correct the offending behavior.
- It is very important for both parents to come to amicable decisions regarding their custody arrangement. Failure to do so will mean that it will be taken up by a judge.
- When the matter of child custody goes to trial, New Jersey courts will always rule in favor of that course of action that is in the best interest of the child.
Child support is one of the more difficult areas of family law, and disagreements over child support can turn contentious and bitter, in some cases lasting long after former spouses have finalized their divorce. The question of what’s financially fair and equitable is complicated when the interests of a third party – the child or children – come into play. An experienced family law attorney can help answer some of your questions about child support, and anticipate some of the common concerns that arise.
How Courts Calculate Child Support: Different states have different rules and guidelines governing child support. New Jersey courts use two sets of guidelines, or “worksheets,” one for “sole parenting” and one for “shared parenting.” If one party’s gross weekly income exceeds $3,500, the guidelines may serve as a starting point, but the judge will have greater discretion to mandate additional child support on a case-by-case basis.
Planning for Your Child’s College Education: If your children are very young, you might not have put much thought toward your child’s college education before you began divorce proceedings. Your first step should be to talk these issues out with your spouse and respective attorneys in mediation. New Jersey law requires that a child exhaust opportunities for scholarships, grants, and student loans available prior to parents being obligated to contribute toward college costs. If the court mandates a contribution, it would be calculated in proportion to their respective incomes, based on the ability to pay.
Waiving Child Support: In New Jersey, child support is the right of the child, not the right of the parent. In theory, then, child support is not waivable. However, if you do not seek to enforce the child’s right to court-ordered support, that would have the same effect was “waiving” the support.
How Long Child Support Payments Last: Child support payments in New Jersey will continue until a child is legally “emancipated,” which usually occurs at the age of 18. In most cases if a child is enrolled in a two or four-year college, he or she will not be emancipated until graduation. However, the parents have significant say here: some factors could allow for emancipation while a student is still enrolled in college; and in some cases, parents will agree to allow a child five years to finish college.
If an Ex Stops Paying Child Support: If your former spouse has stopped paying child support, you can notify the family court; the judge will sign a warrant for his or her arrest, and jail your former spouse until he or she has paid the full balance of missed child support. The court also can seize the negligent party’s passport and suspend driver’s or other professional licenses.
- Child support is usually determined on the basis of the custody arrangement that has been settled on.
- Apart from that, support payment amounts are determined in the state of New Jersey on the basis of certain guidelines set forth by the state.
If you or a loved one is going through a painful child custody battle where neither spouse is able to come to an agreement, please give dedicated New Jersey divorce attorney Brian Freeman a call so he can guide you in a direction that is in the best interest of your children and one that is favorable to you.