What Is “Joint” Child Custody?

What Is "Joint" Child Custody?Many times, our Bergen County divorce clients indicate to us that they want “joint custody” of their children as part of their final child custody agreement. However, the usage of the term “joint custody” often leads to a great deal of confusion for the parent as well as their divorce attorney for two key reasons:

  1. Child Custody is determined in two parts, Legal Custody and Residential Custody. Parents can have sole Legal Custody but share Residential Custody and vice-a-versa, or both parents can share both types of custody.
  2. “Joint” is often confused with the word “equal”, when it fact in legal terms it simply means “to share”, and their are many different ways for parents to share custody of their children without it being 50/50 equal.

With this in mind, we will discuss the particulars of each of these often misunderstood areas of New Jersey child custody law, and hopefully give you a better understanding of exactly what kind of custody you are seeking as part of your divorce, and how to communicate those needs to your divorce lawyer.

Residential Custody and Legal Custody, Teaneck Child Custody Lawyers

When it comes to reaching a child custody agreement during a divorce, be it through litigation, negotiation, mediation, or some other form of Alternative Dispute Resolution, there are two key aspects that are decided separately as part of the final custody agreement.

The first is that of legal child custody. Legal custody refers to the right of the parent(s) to make legal decisions for their children, including things like where they go to school, religious decisions, and decision making power when it comes to medical treatment and their general welfare. Whether or not a parent has legal custody of their children plays no bearing on how much time they will ultimately spend with them. Rather, legal custody simply seeks to clarify each parent’s authority in terms of these important life decisions in order to avoid potential future disputes.

The other aspect of your child custody agreement is that of Residential Custody, which is what most people typically think of when they think of “child custody”. Residential custody will determine how much time each parent spends with their children and when (often referred to as parenting time or visitation).

New Jersey law’s current belief is that neither parent has more right when it to either of these custody determinations, simply that it is in the best interests of the child to spend as much time as possible with both parents after divorce, and that both parents should participate as much as possible in the making of important decisions regarding their child’s health, education, religion, and safety.

So while it is certainly possible for parents to share both Legal Custody as well as Residential Custody, it is important to remember that “sharing” does not necessarily mean an equal split in parenting time.

Joint Custody Agreement Lawyers Ridgewood, NJ

With these two different types of child custody in mind, the three most common types of child custody arrangements are as follows:

  1. Shared Legal Custody with “Primary Residential Parent” – Many times, parents will share legal custody of their children, but appoint one parent the “parent of primary residence”, with the other parent being designated the “Parent of Alternate Residence”. These designations are primarily for child support purposes, but in this kind of arrangement the children will usually spend more time at the primary residence (something like 60/40 or 70/30).
  2. Joint Custody – In circumstances where the divorced parents live in close proximity to one another, are on amicable terms, and share very similar parenting styles and beliefs, a truly 50/50 child custody arrangement may be possible, with both parents sharing legal custody as well as roughly equal parenting time. However, courts are hesitant to approve these kinds of true “joint custody” arrangements as the frequent shuffling back and forth of the children may not be in their best interests. If this kind of true joint custody is what you believe makes sense in your unique situation, you may wish to consider the child custody alternative of bird’s nest custody.
  3. Sole Custody – In situations where there is a history of domestic violence or abuse, or where there is evidence that a parent is unable to act in a healthy manner towards their co-parent and/or their children, one parent may instead be awarded sole legal and residential custody of their children, with the other parent being afforded some amount of visitation time with their children (or none at all in very extreme cases).

To reiterate, the above-mentioned examples are simply the most common types of child custody arrangements divorced parents enter into, but you and your partner are free to come to your own arrangement through whatever means you find appropriate, as is the court should it become necessary for the courts to decide the issue of child custody during your divorce. Of course, the custody arrangement that you are your partner come to must be in the children’s best interests, or you will be asked by the courts to find a more appropriate agreement.

Contact Our Hackensack Child Custody and Divorce Attorneys Today

Now that you have a better understanding of exactly what joint custody entails, and how legal custody is independent from residential custody, and the general goal of any child custody arrangement, you can make a much more informed decision when it comes to deciding exactly what type of custody you would like to pursue, and exactly how you and your Hackensack divorce attorney can go about securing this type of custody.

At The Law Office of Townsend, Tomaio & Newmark, our attorneys have extensive experience helping clients to successfully navigate and resolve the many issues associated with any divorce, and secure a child custody arrangement which best meets their needs and the needs of their children in towns across New Jersey and Bergen County, including Ridgewood, Paramus, Hackensack, Teaneck, and Fort Lee.

Whether you are currently going through a divorce, or are in need of legal representation for a post-divorce issue such as a child custody modification or child custody enforcement, our firm is ready to provide you and your family with the knowledgeable, effective, compassionate, and attentive legal service that you need and deserve in such critical family law matters.

To speak with our legal team today in a free and confidential consultation regarding your divorce, your child custody agreement, or any other divorce or family law matter, please contact us online, or through our Hackensack, NJ office at (201) 397-1750.

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