In all child custody matters, New Jersey family courts will be guided by what is in the best interest of the child. Judges look very carefully at a number of factors when determining custody under New Jersey law, which includes but are not limited to:
- The parents’ ability to agree, communicate, and cooperate in matters relating to the child.
- The parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse.
- The interaction and relationship of the child with his or her parents and siblings.
- Any history of domestic violence.
- The safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent.
- The preference of the child, if of age, and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision.
- The needs of the child.
- The stability of the home environment offered.
- The quality and continuity of the child’s education.
- The fitness of the parents.
- The geographical proximity of the parents’ homes.
- The extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to the separation.
- The parents’ employment responsibilities.
- The age(s) and number of children.
The right of both parents to be a positive influence in the lives of their children is something a court takes very seriously. To encourage the involvement of both parents in their children’s lives, courts today tend to favor a joint custody arrangement, which can be either legal or physical, or both.
When do New Jersey courts consider a child’s wishes?
A court will consider a child’s preference if that child has the ability to make a sound judgment. While age usually plays a role, it is not on its face the only factor a judge will use to determine if a child is mature enough to act in his or her best interest. Judges weigh the importance of a child’s preference on a case-by-case basis.
In general, a child’s preference may be taken into consideration, but may not necessarily affect the final outcome. Usually, a child will not have to testify in open court. Instead, he or she will be interviewed by the judge in chambers, or the judge may appoint a guardian ad litem to conduct the interview. The guardian ad litem will then present the child’s preferences to the court during a custody hearing.
Under New Jersey law, a child’s testimony may not be given to anyone who is not appointed by the court. However, attorneys for each parent may be present when a child is interviewed by the judge in chambers and can even submit questions for the judge to ask.
When you are faced with an important life decision regarding a key family relationship, the advice and assistance of an experienced family law attorney often proves crucial to your understanding of the issues involved and your satisfaction with the ultimate outcome of your family law matter. Contact us today for your free consultation.