There are usually two parts to child custody: legal and physical custody of the child. If a parent has legal custody, they have the inherent right to make specific decisions regarding their child. For example, if you have legal custody, you can make medical, educational, and religious decisions that impact essential items in your child’s life and upbringing. Also, if you have legal custody, it can be granted as joint (you and your ex-spouse are involved) or sole custody, where you make these significant decisions for your child.
So, as parents with joint legal custody, you and your ex-spouse will share equally in the decision-making for your child after your divorce is finalized, whether or not you have joint physical custody.
What’s vital to note is that New Jersey is one of the states that prefer 50/50 legal custody when deciding on joint custody agreements in your divorce. This preferential attitude of the New Jersey courts is reflected in almost all legal custody decisions they rule on.
Always be aware that the New Jersey court makes all decisions based on your child’s best interests. This is, of course, with the presumption that it is best for both parents to share their child’s well-being. So, when joint legal custody is agreed upon and ordered by the court, it is commonly a 50/50 arrangement.
There are times when you, for valid and substantial reasons, may not want your ex-spouse to have joint legal custody over your child, and it is up to you and your Morris County child custody lawyer to make these recommendations to the court. For example, if your ex-spouse is an alcoholic or abuses drugs, you (and the court) may not want them to have sufficient legal custody of your child to impede your sound decisions.
Reasons for not having joint legal (or physical) custody of your child may be complicated for you to submit to the court, but your child’s well-being may depend on it.
Since the New Jersey courts lean towards a 50/50 split for legal (and physical) custody, if there are reasons this should not occur, then you must discuss this enormously important matter thoroughly with your Morris County divorce lawyer.
Is “Joint Legal Custody” Always the Outcome In the New Jersey Courts?
Simply put, it’s not always the outcome in a New Jersey divorce, but it is decreed most of the time.
Based on the experience of most New Jersey divorce lawyers, it is held that less than 5% of New Jersey child custody cases result in sole legal custody. Sole legal custody by one parent is extremely rare; commonly, it’s not even brought up by your divorce lawyer.
Joint legal custody essential means that you and your ex-spouse will equally make all the significant decisions regarding your child. These decisions include but are not limited to major medical decisions, religion, education (whether they will go to college or not), and many more as the years progress.
When co-parenting is working, then rarely do problems arise. However, when joint legal custody does not go well, even the most basic decisions can become stressful, massive conflicts. So, although awarding joint legal custody may be a go-to decision for the New Jersey courts, it can also have its pitfalls.
Some compromises can be reached, which is why it is essential to recognize the benefits and drawbacks inherent in joint legal custody. Your child has a right to a relationship with both parents; however, you (or the courts) may not realize that your child could become a victim in cases where parents are split on fundamental, vital child-raising issues.
What Are Some Reasons You (and the Court) May Not Grant Joint Legal Custody?
One thing you must know is that when your child is over 12, their wishes will usually be considered by the judge. However, the judge will always attempt to make the final custody decision based on your child’s best interests, regardless of your child’s preference.
The main reason not to have joint legal custody is if circumstances make this arrangement harmful to your child’s best interest.
A typical example is that one of the parents of your child may be deemed unfit under New Jersey law. They may be “unfit” if they:
- Have a history of drug or alcohol abuse.
- Have a history of any type of domestic violence.
- Demonstrated no interest in caring for your child or supporting their well-being.
Other conditions that may contribute to moving away from joint legal custody could include the following:
- One parent is the primary caretaker for most of the child’s life.
- One parent is chronically unavailable.
Each case is unique and must be thoroughly discussed with your Morris County divorce lawyer, as their experience and knowledge in approaching these vital matters will be invaluable.
What Can I Do To Prevent Joint Legal Custody of My Child In New Jersey?
Joint visitation rights can be modified and compromises reached; however, if you don’t want joint legal custody, you probably must work with your lawyer to get sole legal custody of your child. This would mean that only you have the right to make crucial decisions in your child’s life.
Additionally, to obtain sole legal custody of your child, you and your lawyer must show that allowing your ex-spouse to participate in any important decisions would be harmful to the child or impossible to do.
For example, if your ex-spouse has largely been absent from your child’s life for a long time or you have a domestic violence restraining order, the court will not order joint legal custody. Also, the other parent may not mentally be capable of making decisions for your child or be in prison; the New Jersey court is unlikely to award joint legal custody.
Admittedly, under normal circumstances, getting sole legal custody of your child is legally challenging in New Jersey. The best path to follow is to work with your knowledgeable and empathetic Morris County divorce lawyer to find the best legal route to this goal.
I’m Not Sure I Want Joint Legal Custody in My Divorce; How Should I Proceed?
Going through a divorce is never a straightforward legal process, and you must have professional, aggressive legal counsel on your side to protect your and your Child’s rights.
Being that New Jersey leans towards joint legal custody, you will need undisputed proof that your ex-spouse is not qualified in some way to make serious, life-changing decisions about your child’s future. Even if you accept joint legal custody, many details must be discussed, and long-range goals planned for.
Consult with your diligent, aggressive Morris County divorce lawyer and be confident that no matter the outcome, your relationship with your child remains intact, and your child’s future is ensured.