Sussex County Child Custody Attorneys
By law, New Jersey family court judges must make child custody decisions that are in the best interests of the children, and most all good parents would agree with this general objective. However, there is usually a legitimate disagreement between the parties as to what exactly is best for the children. Although there are standard orders in place that are presumptively reasonable, they are not appropriate in all cases and are more likely to be a starting point for negotiations.
At this point, an experienced Sussex County family law attorney, like the ones available at Hollander, Strelzik, Pasculli, Hinkes, Vandenberg & Hontz, L.L.C., is critical. Our vast experience has taught us that a successful child custody result often hinges upon a clear plan of action and hard work prior to trial. By keeping an open line of communication and putting forth our best effort every day we come to work, we are committed to both of these areas.
Child Custody Factors
“Best interests” is not an abstract concept, as the court must use several factors to determine what is best for the children of divorce. They include:
- Parent-Child Relationship: All marriages include one “caretaker” spouse and one “breadwinner” spouse, and in most all relationships, both spouses perform both roles to a greater or lesser extent. Even still, male or female parents who spend little or no time with the children during the marriage almost never get custody in divorce.
- Stability: Most judges prize stability over almost everything else, so parents who move frequently, change jobs frequently, or do not live independently face uphill battles in many child custody cases.
- Children’s Preference: The judge may consider the written preference of a child over 12. To help prevent one parent from manipulating older children, many judges appoint attorneys ad litem to give these kids an independent voice during court hearings.
- Fitness: Some people have substance abuse issues that prevent them from being good parents, while others have physical disabilities or other limitations.
- Employment: Especially in the wake of the 2014 alimony reform law, New Jersey judges expect almost all parents to be financially self-sufficient in a reasonable amount of time, and judges also expect parents with custody to maintain a reasonable work-life balance.
Any verified allegations of domestic violence also weigh heavily on any decision, an area that is further explored in the next section.
Resolving Child Custody Disputes
In contested child custody cases, most judges order social services investigations. Procedure varies by county, but in most cases, the parents may employ a government-subsidized CP&P investigator or pay full price for a private social study. All social workers employ basically the same process, which involves reviewing all documents in the case, including any affidavits and orders regarding domestic violence, interviewing the witnesses, talking with parents and children, and at least one home visit. Based on all this evidence, they submit a custody recommendation to the judge. Although this social study is not the final word in the matter, most judges accept the conclusions.
No social study is necessary if the parents agree on custody, and such an agreement is often better for the children, since it expedites the case and lowers the emotional tension that is inevitably present in almost all divorce actions. Additionally, if a party has something to hide from a social worker, an early settlement agreement may be advisable, even if its terms are less than 100% favorable.
In the absence of mutual consent, most disputed child custody cases go to mediation. After hearing from both sides, a neutral third party tries to facilitate a settlement between the two parents. Most judges order mediation as a matter of course, largely because it has a rather high success rate.
Typical Custody Arrangements
Much of the child custody dispute often involves physical custody, or where the children will spend the majority of their time. Despite some lingering questions, joint custody is still the preferred outcome in most courts. The children spend most of their time with Parent A, and Parent B has custody of the children intermittently during the school year, such as every other weekend and one evening per week, and for a majority of the children’s summer vacation.
50-50 joint custody, such as two weeks with Parent A and two weeks with Parent B or an “empty nest” arrangement where the children stay in the same residence and the parents commute back and forth, works well in some cases, but it is not the general rule.
Unless the allegations involve physical harm to a child or some other extreme circumstances, most judges will not cut off contact between a parent and child. However, they will restrict visitation in these circumstances, perhaps by limiting the physical contact to a couple of hours a week, requiring supervised visitation, or ordering a spouse to attend counseling.
Most all child custody orders can be modified later based on changed circumstances.
Count on Experienced Attorneys
Both parents must work together to the greatest extent possible to ensure a successful child custody outcome. For a free consultation with an experienced family law attorney in Sussex County, contact Hollander, Strelzik, Pasculli, Hinkes, Vandenberg & Hontz, L.L.C. Convenient payment plans are available.