Many fathers feel disadvantaged in disputes regarding children, whether those disputes involve child custody agreements and orders, child support arrangements, or related issues such as parental alienation, or step-parent and second-parent adoption. If you are a father with questions about any of these issues, consultation with a family law attorney knowledgeable father’s rights in New Jersey can provide you with information and advice that will increase your confidence and help you protect your rights.
Fathers who have established legal paternity stand on equal ground with mothers in all aspects of New Jersey family law. The following is an overview of fathers rights in New Jersey child custody and child support issues:
Child Custody and Parenting Agreements
Laws governing child custody and visitation in the State of New Jersey are gender neutral. Both parents begin with equal rights. The law also begins with a presumption that children benefit from frequent and continuing contact with both parents. While judges once assumed that mothers were better natural caretakers for very young children, child development professionals have disputed this assumption. New Jersey law has not given mothers a legal preference in custody disputes for many years.
In spite of the fact that the law gives mothers no preferential treatment, they still receive primary physical custody of children somewhat more often than fathers. This is mainly because mothers in intact families are somewhat more likely to act as primary parents. This pattern, however, has been changing in recent decades, with many more fathers now taking on a primary caretaker role. Courts favor changing existing parenting arrangements as little as possible, to avoid adding additional stress to children whose lives are already in upheaval. If one parent has acted for some time as the primary parent, the court is more likely to award primary custody to that parent, regardless of the parent’s gender. For more information, see: New Jersey Child Custody Arrangements.
A second reason mothers are more likely to receive primary custody is that they are simply more likely to ask for it. Many fathers are unaware that they have equal rights when it comes to custody and visitation. Fathers who request primary or joint custody in court are often successful. Even if they do not receive primary or joint custody, they still, in the vast majority of cases, receive a parenting plan that affords them liberal time with children.
Ultimately, courts decide custody and visitation matters according to the best interests of the children involved. Each parent must carefully consider how those needs interact with their own availability and other life responsibilities. No father who wants to be an active parent should ever settle for a plan that affords him only minimal contact with his children.
Another assumption fathers sometimes make is that they are primarily responsible for supporting children financially. In New Jersey, both parents are equally responsible for child support. Mothers and fathers must both contribute to the costs of raising children according to their earning ability, without regard to their gender. New Jersey child support laws are based on each parent’s income and how much time each parent spends with the children. A parent who spends more time with a child is assumed to be paying for more costs directly. For more details, see: New Jersey Child Support Calculation & Guidelines.
If your children’s other parent is not contributing to their financial support, or is not contributing to the full extent of ability, you may be able to attribute (or “impute”) additional income to that parent. An expert opinion from a vocational expert may be necessary to support this claim.
Meet with a New Jersey Father’s Rights Attorney
Neither the child custody nor the child support laws should be applied disproportionately to fathers. If, as a father, you believe that you have not been afforded the same rights in the New Jersey family courts as your child’s mother, a New Jersey father’s rights attorney can help. The attorneys at Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group will explore all of your legal options and help you stand up for your rights as an equal parent. Contact us today for an initial consultation. Secure your future. Call: (888) 888-0919.