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New Jersey Custody – Back to the Basics

Custody disputes are hands-down the most emotionally charged and contentious of issues surrounding the breakup of a marriage. Custody is a complicated subject area that is often misunderstood. Out-of-date labels like “custodial parent” and “visitation” are used just as frequently as currently acceptable terms such as “parenting time” or “parent of primary residence.” No wonder few litigants really understand what it all means. This can lead to a costly custody evaluation and parents engaging in an emotional tug-of-war over their children. Far too often, we see custody used as a bargaining chip in a divorce – like it’s something to be won or lost. Do we ever stop to consider that innocent children are caught in the middle of the custody maelstrom, with the only outcome being one that is decided for them?

In the first of a to-part series on custody, we go back to the basics. In New Jersey, there are generally two types of custody. The first is legal custody, which is the major decision-making for the children’s health, education, and welfare. The public policy of this state favors a joint legal custody arrangement. Also, by statute, parents are deemed to have equal rights with the respect of their children, and frequent and continuing contact is to be encouraged. Even if one party is awarded sole custody, the other party still has a right to parenting time (unless that right is circumscribed by the court).

The second is physical custody, where one party may be designated as the Parent of Primary Residence (“PPR”) and the other as Parent of Alternate Residence (“PAR”). The children will attend school in the district in which the PPR lives. That parent will also make the minor day-to-day decisions for the children and is the parent with whom they live the majority of the time. Some typical day-to-day actions performed by the PPR consist of preparation of meals, grooming, dressing, bathing, cleaning, clothing, arranging social activities with peers, discipline, religious education, and attending to the children at night, etc. It goes without saying that most custody disputes center on physical custody. Moreover, the designation of one parent as PPR has many far-reaching implications in a custody dispute that you should be aware of – too many to cover in this short article.

Keep in mind that custody and parenting time are two different issues, even if they overlap in some respects. Think of custody as decision-making (or in finer terms, the responsibility and authority to maintain or care for the children) and parenting time as, well, just that: time lawfully spent with the children (which these days can even be done over the telephone). Most divorcing parents place such a premium on the amount of time they get to spend with their children that they confuse this with custodial rights. While perhaps that is human nature, it is nonetheless an incorrect interpretation of the law.

Next month, we will continue to cover the basics of custody and what I see as the emerging trend. Remember, it is normal to have questions and concerns over something as fundamental as the care and custody of your children. Come in today for an in-depth legal consultation so that we can discuss your particular custody issues.

Until next month…SSC

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