When New Jersey parents divorce, decisions about legal and physical custody of their children need to be made. In many cases, a judge assigns joint legal custody, which means both parents have a say in making major decisions about a child’s life. Both parents must communicate and could need to make choices together about health, education and religious issues. If one parent has sole legal custody, only this parent can make major decisions on a child’s behalf.
Physical custody refers to where a child lives, and a parent who has sole physical custody may be called a primary caretaker. The primary caretaker has responsibility for a child on a daily basis and can make routine decisions when caring for a child. A parent might have joint legal custody even without physical custody, so a primary caretaker would need to discuss any major choices with the other parent.
When a child switches between living with each parent for a given amount of time, this is called joint physical custody. When a child is currently residing with one parent, this parent is allowed to make regular, daily decisions while having physical custody. While it may be best for a child when parents keep similar structures in place, daily life with each parent may be different.
Courts usually believe it is in the best interests of a child or children to have contact with both parents, so a parent who does not have custody would likely be granted visitation rights. Exceptions are usually only made if a parent has a drinking or drug problem, been abusive to a spouse or a child or if a parent wants no contact with a child, and consulting an attorney may be necessary when going through the child custody process.
Source: Women’s Law, “What options are there for physical custody?“, December 10, 2014