Working out child custody options and negotiating parenting time plans can be emotionally challenging. Parents who are able to work together to construct a parenting plan that meets the needs of the entire restructured family can smooth the transition process for their children. This goal is always worth striving for, although it will not ultimately prove to be realistic in every case. If you are a parent dealing with a New Jersey custody and visitation matter, a qualified New Jersey family law attorney can help you focus on practical options and maintain your equilibrium as you navigate this unfamiliar and often stressful terrain.
New Jersey Visitation & Parenting Time Plans
New Jersey courts often use the term “parenting time,” to refer to time that a parent and child spend together, regardless of whether the parent is custodial or non-custodial. The term is particularly appropriate when parents share physical custody fairly equally. Even when one parent has more limited physical time with a child, however, referring to this time as “parenting time,” rather than “visitation,” more accurately reflects the reality of a parent’s role. Time with a parent is always far more significant than time with a mere visitor.
Examples of Parenting Time Arrangements
Under New Jersey law, co-parents can structure parenting time in any way manageable for them, provided that the plan serves their child’s best interests. Parenting time is linked to physical custody as opposed to legal custody. For more information about the differences between physical and legal custody in New Jersey, see New Jersey Child Custody Arrangements.
While several different physical custody arrangements might work well for your family, most parents begin with one of the following standard formats:
- One primary residential parent and one alternate residential parent: Under this arrangement, a child spends the majority of the week residing with the parent who has primary physical custody. The other parent generally follows a fairly traditional visitation schedule, spending alternate weekends with the child. If practical, the “alternate” parent often also has a regular mid-week dinner or other special mid-week activity with the child.
- Shared physical custody: Parents who wish to share physical custody can construct a schedule that allows them equal or nearly equal parenting time. This may consist of alternating weeks, or it may consist of shorter blocks of alternating time. While alternating weeks offers simplicity, shorter blocks of time tend to work better for younger children. Some families also prefer shorter blocks because this creates fewer long absences between the child and either parent.
- Sole physical custody: When one parent has sole physical custody, visitation may be more limited. If some circumstance exists that makes it in the child’s best interest for visitation to be severely limited or even supervised, the schedule must be tailored accordingly. Parents are rarely locked into such limitations permanently. Courts favor liberal visitation, except when contrary to the child’s best interests.
Constructing a Parenting Time Plan
Crafting a detailed parenting plan requires practical assessment of each family member’s lifestyle. Common considerations include:
- The children’s ages and levels of social and emotional development, including any special needs,
- How parents divided responsibilities prior to separation,
- How any changes in previous arrangements might be phased in so that children feel comfortable and cared for at all times,
- Each parent’s current and anticipated work schedule, including available vacation time,
- School locations and calendars,
- Children’s extracurricular activities,
- Childcare needs, and
- Anticipated roles of extended family members.
Terms to Include in Parenting Time Plans
Parenting plans are most effective when they are specific and detailed. Parents who get along well with one another sometimes want to keep plans general, in the belief that this will provide greater flexibility. While maintaining flexibility will serve parents well, enforcement of vague plans often proves to be difficult or impossible.
The best plans are tailored to the needs of an individual family. Among important items to include are the following:
- A designation of legal and physical custody,
- A description of the time-sharing arrangement,
- A description of any changes in time-sharing that will occur during school vacation periods,
- Provisions addressing transportation,
- Provisions addressing birthdays (both children’s and parents’), as well as special holidays such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and traditional or religious family holidays,
- Provisions addressing travel out of the state or out of the country, and
- A description of access to and sharing arrangements regarding school and medical records.
Our family law attorneys provide you with the information, tools, and guidance you need to make the decisions that are best for both you and your family. We will help you accomplish your goals, whether it is amicably agreed upon or requires litigation. We allay your child custody fears and secure your future with your children.
Learn how to protect your rights and safeguard your precious time with your children. Schedule a free consultation. Your secure future starts with a call: (888) 888-0919.