child standing between parents

Deciding on child custody during a divorce case can be emotionally overwhelming. The parents and court want to do what is in the best interest of the child but the answer is not always black and white. Courts consider various factors when making a determination, including the child’s preference. To obtain legal assistance during your child custody dispute reach out to a Sussex County, Sparta child custody attorney.

What Types of Child Custody Exist?

There are a few different types of custody that can be awarded during a divorce. Courts wish to choose what is in the best interest of the child while also ensuring that they will have access to and contact with both parents after the divorce. The following are some custody agreements that can be made.

  • Joint legal custody: Legal custody refers to the right to make important decisions about the child including choices about their education, medical care, religion, etc. In joint legal custody, both parents can contribute to these decisions.
  • Sole legal custody: If one parent is awarded sole legal custody they are the only one who can make the aforementioned decisions. The other parent may offer their opinion but ultimately it is up to the custodial parent.
  • Shared physical custody: Physical custody can also be called residential custody. When two parents share physical custody the child resides with each parent equally.
  • Primary physical custody: When one parent has primary physical custody they live with the child for 51% of the time or more.

Deciding what custody agreement works best for a family is crucial. The choices made during the divorce will impact the relationship that the child has with both parents for the rest of their lives. Depending on the unique circumstances of the family one agreement may work best.

How is Custody Decided?

Child custody in New Jersey is decided by either a negotiated agreement between the parents or by the decision of a judge. If the parents are on amicable terms or have similar ideas about custody they can create their own agreement without input from the court. Once it is completed they must sign and submit a written agreement for a judge to review and approve.

If the parents cannot or do not wish to draft their own agreement a judge will make the determination. They will do a thorough examination of various factors including:

  • The housing situation of each parent
  • The financial status of each parent
  • Each parent’s criminal history
  • The relationship the child has with each parent
  • The child’s preference

Will a Court Take Into Consideration the Child’s Preference?

As stated above, the court will take into consideration which parent the child wishes to live with. Although a judge does not have to make their decision based solely on the child’s preference, it can be a contributing factor. The older the child is the more weight their preference will carry.

A judge will have to ascertain whether or not the child has been coached to request one parent over the other or whether or not their preference is based on the parent who has fewer rules or a more lenient parenting style.

Regardless of age, a judge will always take the child’s preference into consideration when determining child custody decisions.