Physical vs. Legal Child Custody in New Jersey

Bergen County NJ Divorce and Family Law AttorneysChild custody is one of the most important issues facing unmarried parents and parents going through a divorce. Child custody in New Jersey is often used as a singular term, but in fact there are two distinct forms of child custody: physical and legal. Today, our attorneys will discuss exactly what physical and legal child custody means, how they can be considered separately, and what impact that has on New Jersey parents.

If you or a loved one have questions or concerns regarding child custody, child support, or any other divorce or family law matters, call our office today for a free and confidential consultation with a member of our experienced legal team.

Bergen County, NJ Divorce and Family Law Attorneys Define Physical Child Custody

Physical custody, sometimes referred to as “residential custody”, dictates where the child lives and spends his or her time. In many ways, physical custody is what most people think of when they think of child custody. There are a few typical scenarios which parents may choose:

Sole physical custody – where one parent has physical custody of the child or children for the majority of the time, they are considered to have sole physical custody. This is legally the case if the child spends less than two overnight stays per week with the non-custodial parent.

Shared Physical custody – if the child spends two or more nights with each parent, that is considered to be shared physical custody. When the time is split unevenly, the courts will determine that one parent is the “parent of primary residence” while the other is the “parent of alternate residence”.

Joint physical custody – in the rare situation where parents share 50/50 physical custody of children, that is considered joint physical custody. This often sounds better in theory than it does in practice, as dividing a child’s time evenly over a seven day week can be extremely difficult to coordinate.

Paramus Child Custody Lawyers Discuss Legal Child Custody

Legal custody grants parents the decision making power regarding a child’s education, wellbeing, health, safety, etc. This does not extend to normal activities such as what a child will eat, what clothes they will wear, and generally how they will spend their time, which are considered matters of physical custody. However, for decisions such as religious decisions, what school a child will attend, and medical choices, legal custody will come into play.

Joint legal custody – grants both parents equal say in the matters discussed above. Even parents who co-parent under a sole physical custodial arrangement generally will have joint legal custody in New Jersey. It is possible for parents to agree that only certain decisions require input from both parents. For example, if a non-religious parent is not concerned  with decisions related to religious activities, he or she may waive their right to legal custody for that one topic while retaining their right to be involved in medical, educational, and other important decisions.

Sole legal custody – much less common than joint legal custody, this is generally the case when one parent is considered to be mentally or morally unfit to make important decisions in a child’s life. In order to be considered “unfit”, a parent must have demonstrated serious issues including domestic violence, violent past, current incarceration, and so on.

Contact our Hackensack Physical and Legal Child Custody Attorneys Today

The divorce and family law attorneys of Townsend, Tomaio & Newark have extensive experience serving parents in local New Jersey towns including Paramus, Ridgewood, Hackensack, Fort Lee, Teaneck, and the greater Bergen County area. We believe in keeping our clients informed and involved throughout the legal process whether that be a divorce, child custody dispute, or any other family law matter. Contact us online or through our Hackensack offices by calling (201) 397-1750 today for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your physical child custody, legal child custody, or any other family law concern with a member of our qualified legal team.

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