Child custody, child support and parenting time are probably the three most difficult and emotional issues divorcing parents have to face.
Custody is the legal responsibility for the care and control of your unemancipated children (generally children under 18, or over 18 and in college). In New Jersey, there are two types of child custody: Legal custody gives one or both parents the right to make legal decisions for the children regarding education, health care, religion and his or her general welfare. Sole legal custody is when only one parent can make these decisions. Joint legal custody awards that right to both parents. Residential custody gives parents the rights and responsibilities regarding the day-to-day care and activities of their children. Normally one parent is designated the PPR (parent of primary residence), and the other parent is designated the PAR (parent of alternate residence). In New Jersey the parent of alternate residence (PAR) is awarded “parenting time” or visitation with the children.
Most New Jersey courts require parents to participate in a mandatory mediation session in an attempt to resolve any custody issues. However, if the parents cannot agree on a custody and visitation plan, the court will decide who gets custody. The court’s decision will be based on what is in the “best interests” of the children. The court considers a variety of factors in making its “best interests” determination, including which home will best serve the child’s educational needs and interests. Contrary to what you may have heard, there is no legal presumption that one gender is better suited to have custody.
Depending on the custody agreement, non-custodial parents are typically required to pay child support on a regular basis until the child or children reach the age of 18. The amount of child support paid varies depending on the parent’s income and the needs of the dependent children. If you fail to make these payments in a timely manner, you face substantial penalty. It is important for both the non-custodial and the custodial parent to speak with an attorney before agreeing to any child support obligation, in order to determine the feasibility of this arrangement.