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Frequently Asked Questions About Child Custody in New Jersey

How does the court decide which parent gets custody?

When parents cannot agree about issues concerning the custody of their minor children, the court will attempt to determine a custody arrangement that will be in the “best interest” of the children. This is typically accomplished after the court has reviewed evidence such as each party’s testimony, statements of other witnesses, and the results of the report of the “best interest evaluator” (a forensic psychologist or other qualified professional who assists the court). In some instances, the court may also consider the testimony of the children themselves, but only if they are of a sufficient age and capacity. In such situations, the judge usually speaks to the children outside the presence of the parents.

Does a parent’s gender factor into the court’s decision?

Although the law many years ago once favored the mother in child custody proceedings, there is now a rebuttable presumption that the parents are to be on equal footing in the court’s determination of custody, regardless of their gender. What the court is instead concerned with is how well each parent communicates with the children, the level of interaction between each parent and the children, the parents’ respective employment responsibilities, and the relative stability of the parents’ households. The children’s preferences regarding custody may also be considered in some cases, but this is not the ultimate determining factor.  The older a child is, the more that child’s preference will be considered in the ultimate decision.

If a spouse committed adultery, is it still possible for that spouse to get custody?

Yes, it is possible. The issue of adultery can be used as a basis for divorce, and it may be taken into consideration in the allocation of property in a few, limited situations, but it is not usually a factor in determining the custody arrangements of a couple’s minor children. However, if a spouse has committed adultery with a person who could be a danger to the children (for instance, a registered sex offender or a person who abuses drugs or alcohol), the relationship may become a factor in the custody determination, especially if the relationship is ongoing.

Is there any way to change a custody order once it has been entered?

Yes. First of all, a child custody order can be appealed to a higher court, just like any other court order.  Generally, an the filing of a Notice of Appeal of an Order must occur within 45 days from when the order is entered.  When this happens, the higher court will review the trial court’s decision and, if it disagrees with the order, can set the order aside.

In cases in which the time for appeal has passed, there may still be an opportunity for a change in the custody arrangement. The courts recognize that children’s needs and family situations change over time. Therefore, litigants in a child custody case are able to file a motion for the modification of a custody order previously entered by the court. However, the moving party must prove that there has been some change of circumstances – such as a move, a change in work schedule, or a change in the child’s needs – that would warrant a review of the court’s decision. Simply being dissatisfied with the court’s original decision is not enough to warrant a modification of the court’s custody order.

How can I get more information about my rights when it comes to my child custody case?

It’s a simple fact that marriages sometimes end. The relationship between parent and child, however, is ongoing and should be afforded appropriate attention during divorce proceedings. To schedule an appointment to discuss your child custody issue with an experienced New Jersey child custody lawyer, call the law firm of Goldstein Law Group at 732-967-6777 and ask for an appointment.

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