If you are getting divorced or separating from your significant other, and have a child or children in common, be aware that the initial arrangements for custody and parenting time will be very significant to the final outcome in your case. It is important to secure the advice of an experienced lawyer to ensure that the initial custody and parenting time arrangement in your case is satisfactory. While there are numerous factors the court must consider in deciding issues of custody and parenting time, which I will recite below, you should note that in most cases, the court will not hold a hearing to determine temporary custody and parenting time before your divorce trial is scheduled, or before you are able to reach a resolution in your case. Since cases that do not resolve must be resolved by trial, and since the courts are overwhelmed with cases in our state, trial may not be scheduled until well after one year has passed from the date of filing of your Complaint for Divorce. Therefore, your parenting time may seem far from temporary.
You will have an opportunity for a trial, where you will present all of the reasons why you should have more parenting time, and your spouse or significant other should have less, and that will make the judge change the schedule, right? Not necessarily. Courts are loath to change the “status quo” unless they are guided to do so by a psychologist’s report. So, be mindful of making sure that the initial custody and parenting time order in your case is satisfactory. Even if no order exists, the “status quo” will be a significant factor to the judge if the child or children are not significantly suffering because of the schedule.
The factors the Court considers in custody cases in New Jersey are as follows:
•a. The parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child;
•b. The parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse;
•c. The interaction and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings;
•d. The history of domestic violence;
•e. The safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent;
•f. The preference of the child when of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision;
•g. The needs of the child;
•h. The stability of the home environment offered;
•i. The quality and continuity of the child’s education;
•j. The fitness of the parents;
•k. The geographical proximity of the parents’ homes;
•l. The extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to separation;
•m. The parents’ employment responsibilities; and
•n. The age and number of the children.