All New Jersey child custody and parenting determinations are resolved based upon what is in the best interests of the child. Thus, a Judge will weigh and evaluate what promotes the safety, happiness and physical, mental and moral welfare of the child. New Jersey statutes set fort the following objective criteria for consideration:
Nonetheless, the rights of both parents to custody are presumptively to be deemed equal with neither parent having a greater right to custody in the absence of misconduct. The factors set forth above need to be established at trial and articulated by the court in its reasoning when determining physical or legal custody. These factors will also determine whether the custodial arrangement is deemed sole or joint custody. A court can give the parties sole legal custody and joint physical custody and vice versa. In addition, the court of parties can designate which parent is the parent of primary and secondary residence.
In addition, a custodial parent is required to obtain the consent of the other parent or court approval prior to relocating their child from the state of New Jersey to another state or nation. In the absence of agreement, the Court will make its determination based upon the best interests of the child standard. This standard is also utilized in modification of a parenting plan that results from a relocation within the state where the distance between the parents results in the need to update the parenting schedule.
In most cases involving disputed initial placements of the child, it will be necessary to work with a mental health professional to conduct a best interests evaluation and testimony as to the implications of a proposed parenting schedule or the placement of a child with one of the parties. In more extreme cases, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to protect the interests of the child. Such appointments could occur based on the Court’s own motion or a request from one or both parents. The guardian ad litem will act as an independent factfinder who will investigate, evaluate and recommend what is in the best interest of the child. The guardian ad litem can be an attorney, social worker, mental health professional or other appropriate individual.
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