When it comes to divorce situations anywhere in the United States, inclusive of New Jersey, courts strongly highlight the importance of the best interest of any and all children involved. Parents are generally able to decide how to split the responsibilities and time with the child, if they agree that this plan which they devise together is in the best interest of the child. In some rare cases, a court may intervene if it is clear that the parents’ decision is harmful to the child. In the absence of such a situation, parents are legally allowed to decide in concert. But legal permission to do something is different from the internal capacity to do it. If the parents absolutely cannot cooperate, the court will intervene and determine the best interest of the child.
This blog will explain how the “best interest of the child standard” is analyzed in New Jersey. If you considering divorce, this is likely an extremely stressful time for you. Remember, you can always get in touch with a Sussex County family law attorney to help you through this.
Four Categories of Best Interest of the Child
Courts look at a very long list of factors before making decisions in a divorce proceeding, but many of these factors can be grouped under similar categories. While all New Jersey judges must consider very similar lists of factors, they also still have a degree of discretion, particularly in how much weight each factor is given.
The child’s physical health and safety
Typically speaking, a court will presume that the children will be happiest and healthiest maintaining a relationship with their parents (along with any siblings). However, the actual well-being of the child is more important to a court than assumptions. If the court is ever concerned that a parent is risking the health and safety of the child, then it can step in. Unsupervised parenting time can become supervised, overnight visits can be banned, and a parent’s custody rights can be completely suspended.
The child’s emotional wellbeing
Here is where a court will consider the stability of the home environment and the participation of the parents in their child’s care before and since the separation. If the child is old enough to reason maturely, they will be asked about their preferences.
Parents’ communication abilities
Courts value it highly when a parent is willing to negotiate in good faith with their former spouse. At the same time, courts do not appreciate it when one parent attempts to interfere in the relationship between the child and the other parent.
Practical and logistical concerns
This grouping may perhaps be the least contentious of all the best interest categories yet listed. These kinds of concerns focus on day-to-day functioning: how many work hours each parent has, whether the child can remain in their current school, as well as the ages of the children in question, among other things.