Protecting your parental rights and your child's well-being are top priorities during a divorce or other custody dispute. These cases are especially troublesome when you don't believe that the other parent is capable of providing the best care for your child. In such cases, you may need to pursue full custody.
Obtaining sole custody, is not always easy under New Jersey law. To win full custody of your child, you must prove that such a custody award is in the child's best interest. These cases can be tough, and the stakes are high, so to ensure the best outcome possible, you should consider hiring an experienced New Jersey child custody lawyer. The custody attorneys at Villani & DeLuca know how to present a powerful case to show the court what's best for your child.
Understanding New Jersey Sole Custody Laws
Learning about New Jersey's child custody laws may be a useful first step when seeking full custody of your child. Understanding these laws can help you decide whether to fight for full custody and how to plan for your case. However, NJ custody laws are nuanced and complex. Successfully gaining full custody of your child requires a thorough knowledge of many New Jersey laws, so you should also seek the counsel of an accomplished family law attorney.
New Jersey Statutes §9:2-4 declares that it is in the public interest for both parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child-rearing, and both parents have equal rights under the law. Ultimately the court must enter custody orders that are in the best interests of the child.
The court may award sole custody to one parent or joint custody to both parents. Sole legal custody means that a parent can make major legal decisions for a child without consulting their former partner. These include decisions about medical care, extracurricular activities, and where the child will attend school. To win sole legal custody, you must usually demonstrate that the other parent will not make decisions that are in a child's best interests.
A parent with sole custody is also the primary residential parent in almost all cases. However, be aware that a noncustodial parent will often be entitled to appropriate parenting time, which can include overnights and even extended periods of holiday or vacation time.
Best Interests Under New Jersey Statutes §9:2-4
New Jersey courts must base any custody decision on the best interests of the child. A judge will consider certain factors when making a custody award, including:
- Parents' ability to agree, communicate, and cooperate in matters relating to the child
- Any history of a parent's unwillingness to allow parenting time without reason
- The relationship of the child, parents, and siblings
- Evidence of domestic violence or abuse
- The preference of a child who is old enough and of sufficient maturity
- The child's needs, the stability of each of home, and education opportunities
- Fitness of the parents
- The proximity of the parents' homes
- Time spent caring for the child before or after the separation
- Each parent's employment responsibilities
A judge may also consider any other information that is relevant to a child's best interest. A parent pursuing full custody will benefit from understanding these factors since the child's best interests will heavily influence the case's outcome.
When is Sole Custody in the Best Interests of the Child?
You will need to prove that joint custody is not possible or would be detrimental to your child. As mentioned above, you should keep in mind that legal custody and parenting time are not the same. Therefore, facts that warrant legal custody of a child may not justify eliminating all parenting time for the other party.
For example, a court may award one parent sole custody if the parents are entirely unable to get along and make decisions together. If you and your ex are fundamentally opposed on issues of medical care or education for your child, it may be impossible to share joint custody. In these cases, you must prove that you will make better choices for your child. Your decisions might be best if you have historically been the primary caregiver for the child or if the other parent is not actively involved in the child's life. You may also be able to win full custody if you can show that the other parent has:
- Issues with anger or is emotionally abusive towards the child
- Failed to make educational or medical decisions that are in the best interests of the child (such as failing to get the child to school consistently or not getting prompt medical care for the child)
- An extreme commitment to their career or other obligations that come before the child's needs
Cases of serious domestic violence and child abuse often warrant sole custody, and in many of these cases, limited parenting for the abusive parent is also justified. You may also be able to obtain full custody in cases where the other parent has a history of child neglect or struggles with substance abuse.
How to Present Effective Evidence in a Case for Sole Custody
Effectively presenting your case for full custody requires convincing evidence and persuasive legal arguments. Detailed examples of the other parent's problematic behavior are more compelling than vague testimony. Documentation, such as school attendance or medical records, can also help your case. Additionally, testimony from investigators, social workers, or other neutral third parties will be especially convincing. If your child is old enough and deemed mature enough to weigh in, they may also be permitted to express an opinion about their preferred living arrangements.
NJ judges may hesitate to limit the other party's involvement with their children, so you must be prepared to present a strong case for full custody. A persuasive case for full custody will include robust evidence and a strong understanding of NJ custody laws, including the best interest factors. As with any legal matter, courts expect parties to comply with the rules of evidence and court procedures. A qualified NJ child custody lawyer can help you effectively present the most persuasive evidence to obtain full custody of your children.
Mistakes to Avoid
There are mistakes to be avoided if you are contemplating asking for full custody of your child. Sometimes a parent believes that their case for full custody will be improved by preventing the other parent from seeing the children. In reality, this tactic is risky.
Pursuant to N.J.S. §9:2-4(c) the judge may consider “any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse.” Thus, refusing to allow the other party to see the children may actually hurt your case. However, the attorneys at Villani & DeLuca understand that you may have serious concerns about your child's well-being when they are with the other parent. If possible, contact a lawyer as soon as possible to discuss the best strategy for protecting your child.
You should also avoid what people sometimes refer to as “parental alienation.” Parental alienation involves making negative comments about your ex in front of the child or otherwise trying to convince the child that the other parent is bad. Discouraging a child from speaking to the other parent or spending time with the other parent is a common form of parental alienation. Sharing irrelevant case details, information about financial disagreements, or other arguments can also be problematic. While your child might have many questions about the custody case, you should answer questions in gentle and age-appropriate terms whenever possible. If you are unsure of what to say to your child, a family lawyer can offer advice.
Contact a NJ Custody Lawyer for Help
The attorneys at Villani & DeLuca are available to help you fight for custody of your child. Our skilled and compassionate attorneys understand the importance of your parental rights and are ready to help you present a compelling case to protect your child. Contact Villani & DeLuca now for a consultation.