Clients facing decisions regarding the custody of their children during and after a divorce often have questions about whether a mother or father receives any preference in custody determinations.
Throughout much of the 20th Century, the prevailing doctrine was that a child in his or her "tender years" required maternal care. Therefore, mothers often received sole or primary custody. The law has evolved and most courts now give mothers and fathers equal standing before the law where it concerns questions of custody. No matter what the custody or parenting time arrangement, to the court the determining factor is the best interests of the child.
When considering a child's best interests, the State of New Jersey will look at the age of the child, whether there are multiple children, the home environment and ability to provide for the children of each parent, and even the wishes of the child if the child is of sufficient age to weigh in on this issue.
In New Jersey, custody cases are governed by both statutory and case law which seeks to ensure that both parents have "frequent and continuing" contact with their children. That being said, it is still not uncommon for the mother to be designated as the Parent of Primary Residence and the father as the Parent of Alternate Residence. Conversely, there are also plenty of fathers who have primary residential custody. As one might imagine, these labels spark a lot of conflict between the parties in a divorce. You should keep in mind that no matter what the custody designation is, a label does not define who you are as a parent. The quality of time that you spend with your child is of paramount importance.
In some instances, it is possible for the parties to share joint legal and physical custody of a child. There are many dispositive factors that will go into the analysis of whether this arrangement is feasible, including the level of communication between the parties, the geographical distance between the parties’ residences, the age of the child, etc.
If you are a father and seek primary residential custody or even shared custody, you will need diligent and assertive legal representation to represent your interests. Remember, you do not have to be a minor player in your child's life and should never accept less because you are challenged on the custody issue. You have the right to be an active, devoted parent. Fathers in New Jersey have the right to make decisions for their children such as how the children will be educated or what type of medical care your children receive. You also have the right to spend as much time with your child as circumstances permit, including factoring in your work schedule, the child’s school responsibilities, and the distance between you and the mother’s residence. There are many other factors that are considered by the court.
If your right to be an involved father to your children is impeded or being interfered with, there are legal remedies for this, and you should seek legal counsel. Your first step should be to contact an experienced attorney who can help you aggressively protect your rights and interests as a father.
At the Law Offices of Sylvia S. Costantino, Esq., LLC, we have the experience you need to navigate the often-murky waters of New Jersey family law as it concerns father’s rights in custody matters.