Sad boy looking camera while his parents argue

When parents split in New Jersey, one of the most contentious aspects of their separation is establishing a child custody agreement. Parents often engage in custody battles, fighting to safeguard their parenting time to ensure they maintain a close relationship with their children. However, if parents can’t reach an agreement, the issue will be left to the court. The court will consider various factors to determine an appropriate custody arrangement, including the child’s preference for which parent they wish to reside with. If you are divorcing and your parenting time is at stake, it’s in your best interest to enlist the help of our trusted Monmouth County Child Custody Attorneys, who can help negotiate a favorable parenting plan. 

What Factors Influence Custody Decisions?

When parents of minor children can’t agree on a custody arrangement, the courts have to step in. In New Jersey, there are two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to decide on the child’s upbringing. On the other hand, physical custody refers to where the child primarily lives. Judges can award both types of custody to both parents, depending on what’s best for the child. New Jersey courts follow “the best interest of a child” standard to ensure custody arrangement promotes a child’s health, safety, and overall well-being. To determine the best interests of a child, the court will examine the following factors:

  • The age and number of children
  • Each parent’s fitness
  • Each parent’s physical and mental health
  • Each parent’s standard of living
  • Each parent’s ability and willingness to foster the child’s relationship with the other parent
  • The income and earning capacity of each parent
  • Who was the primary caregiver
  • Whether or not either parent has a history of abuse or neglect
  • Whether or not either parent struggles with substance abuse issues
  • The geographic proximity of the parent’s homes
  • How disruptive a change of custody would be for the child
  • The child’s preference (if of sufficient age)
  • Any other relevant factors

Can Children Express Preference in New Jersey Custody Proceedings?

When deciding custody in New Jersey, a judge can evaluate any factor that they deem relevant. Therefore, a judge can consider a child’s custody preference. However, that doesn’t mean a child’s wishes bind the court. Even if the court decides to consider a child’s custodial preference when they are deemed mature enough to provide a rational opinion, the court will not base their decision solely on their preference.

It’s important to note that there is no specific age when a judge will consider a child’s preference. Still, they tend to give the opinions of older teenagers more weight, as younger children usually can’t make an intelligent decision. Additionally, despite considering a child’s stated preference, the court will assess whether the child is rebelling against the current custodial parent or is being coached to choose one parent over the other.

If you are facing an issue regarding child custody, please don’t hesitate to contact the legal team at Paone Zaleski & Murphy. Our skilled attorneys can help you fight for your rights during these challenging times.