New Jersey laws with respect to custody and parenting time are gender neutral, meaning that the courts cannot base decisions regarding custody of or parenting time with your children based upon gender. Long ago, many states subscribed to the now defunct “tender years” doctrine where courts would give custody of very young children to mothers, believing that this was necessary to ensure the emotional well-being and positive psychological development of the child. Today, courts, experts and lawmakers know that a child thrives best with the participation of both parents to the greatest degree possible. And, with more and more same-sex couples rearing children, any gender argument is moot.
What does this mean for you, as a dad? Here are some do’s and don’ts as you pursue custody and parenting time with your kids:
DO: Try to negotiate and/or mediate with your ex before going to court. Courts favor parents coming together and working through issues of child custody and parenting time on their own. Remember, you are going to have to work with this person for the benefit of your child for years to come. It is best to come up with your own personalized arrangement that works for the family, rather than have a judge map out your future for you. Perhaps formalized mediation, where a trained family law mediator assists the both of you in coming up with a workable arrangement is a good avenue for you to take, if initial talks are not fruitful.
DO: Remember that the courts favor extensive involvement of both parents in a child’s life. If you can reasonably have shared residential custody of your child, where he or she would live with you fifty percent of the time, then ask for it. Be sure that this arrangement is in the best interests of your child, because that is the standard that the courts will use. If your work schedule cannot accommodate this type of plan, or if you live very far away from your ex, be realistic. This plan may not work for the family.
DON’T: Be intimidated. If you feel as though you cannot properly assert your wishes or express your needs to your child’s other parent, seek the assistance of a trained mediator to guide you through the process of negotiation. If you need an attorney, consider one trained in the collaborative approach, where both parents agree to work out their issues without going into a courtroom.
DO: Get educated about the types of custody in New Jersey. Residential custody is where your child lives the majority of the time. Typically, one parent has the child more than the other, and the other parent has parenting time with their child. Legal custody is regarding the big decisions in your child’s life, such as education, major medical and religious decisions. In the vast majority of cases, parents share joint legal custody, so both can be a part of those big decisions for their child. Both parents also have access to medical and school records when they share joint legal custody.
DON’T: Go It Alone. If you are a dad and you wish to assert your custody and/or parenting time rights in court, you should first seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney in your area; one that knows not only the laws governing child custody and parenting time, but also knows how to navigate your particular court system. This knowledge and experiences can prove invaluable if you need to hire an attorney to assist you, if you cannot work out an effective and reasonable custody and parenting time arrangement with your child’s other parent.
Remember that your child needs both parents in their life and that you should always strive to make sure that their best interests are being served. Put aside any negative feelings that you my have toward your ex and try your best to work together to best serve your child. Approaching this or any type of conflict you may have with a “win at all costs” attitude will get you nowhere fast, with the courts and with your child.
If you would like further information regarding your custody and parenting time rights, please contact us to schedule your initial consultation with one of our qualified attorneys, experienced in all areas of New Jersey family law.
Get Our Guide: