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Common Custody Questions: What do “sole,” “joint,” and “legal” mean?

Posted by Matt Rooney | Apr 30, 2015 | 0 Comments

Understanding the basic vocabulary of child custody in New Jersey

One of the most common questions we hear from our New Jersey family law clients here at DeMichele and DeMichele is “can I, or can he/she, get full custody ?” My honest to goodness answer: there's no such thing as “full” custody in New Jersey. At least no how they questioning individual is conceiving of it! First and foremost, we need to think of custody as being bifurcated, or split, into two different categories.

Legal custody is the less-litigated of the two types of custody only because it is difficult to repeal a patent's legal custody rights once they've been established. In New Jersey, family courts have the relatively broad power to “make such order…as to the care, custody, education and maintenance of the children… as the circumstances of the parties and the nature of the case shall render fit, reasonable and just.” (per N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23):

– Sole legal custody refers to a situation where the custodial parent makes all major decisions impacting the child's life, ranging from day-to-day decision to more major ones like educational choices and medical procedures. However, unless the non-custodial is placing his or her child in some type of physical danger (for example, there is an active Child Protection and Permanency CP&P, formerly DYFS, concern pertaining to abuse), this type of custodial arrangement is not the norm.

– Joint  or “shared” legal custody occurs when one parent is designated as the parent of primary residence (or “PPR”) and the other as the parent of alternate residence (the “PAR”). Here, both parents have a right to participate in major decision-making involving the health, safety, and welfare of the parties' child(ren), but the Court is nevertheless reluctant to interfere in decision-making unless it believes the child's best interests are in jeopardy.

Physical custody is an altogether distinct concept from legal custody, referring to the amount of time that a parents spends with his or her child(ren). This is where most court battles arise. Holiday time, overnight visitation, vacation plans, and relocation requests all provide fertile grounds for conflict between parents who are unable to compromise for one reason or another.

Here, as a very general matter, the Court is again guided by the best interests of the child (first and foremost), the preferences of the PPR, and a preference for the stability of the status quo assuming, of course, it doesn't intefere with the all-important best interests analysis. Cases in this legal arena are  alsohighly factually-based and can turn upon whether one parent is truly PPR, or if the parties are truly in a shared, 50/50 or close-to parenting time arrangement. There are simply too many ins, outs, and nuances to walk through everything in one post; it's why we have an entire legal blog! The good news: our team is experienced in both winning and defending against custody modification motions, and we're ready to assist you TODAY. Your relationship with your child is your most important relationship. Don't leave it to chance when everything is on the line. If you or a loved one has questions regarding parenting time, supervision of a child, child custody or any other family law matter, please contact the child custody attorneys at DeMichele and DeMichele. For a confidential consultation to discuss your situation with one of our New Jersey custody attorneys, you can also call (856) 546-1350. ____

About the Author

Matt Rooney

Practice Areas: Family Law (including Divorce, Alimony, Child Support, and Domestic Violence); Municipal Court; Personal Injury; Residential Real Estate; Civil Litigation; Collections.


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