Child’s Best Interest is Considered in All Types of New Jersey Child Custody Cases
In a new decision from the NJ Appellate Division, the judge confirmed and clearly held what is, in fact, long-established child custody law in New Jersey—that regardless of the type of custody case, the same rules apply regarding discovery and investigation, and all trial court judges are obligated, without exception, to apply the legal standard resulting in a decision that is in the best interests of the child. It may seem obvious that the best interests of the child should be determined using the same legal standards in all custody cases; however, New Jersey’s method of distinguishing between divorce-related custody cases and non-divorce-related custody cases created the issue. Read on to find out why, and what the Appellate Division had to say about it.
Divorce Custody Cases Vs. Non-Divorce Child Custody Cases
In New Jersey, child custody and parenting time determinations are made under two different case types—the FM docket refers to divorce cases, while the FD docket refers to custody or parenting time issues arising between unmarried parents. FD cases are categorized as “summary proceedings,” which means they are to be handled much more quickly than divorce cases. Indeed, if you want discovery or experts in an FD case, you must request it. Unfortunately, in the case at hand, J.G. v. J.H., this practice resulted in a very important child custody decision being made hurriedly without taking the proper steps to investigate the best interests of the child.
In J.G. v. J.H., the parents shared joint legal custody of their minor child, with the mother designated the parent of primary residence and the father the parent of alternate residence with liberal parenting time. When the mother began dating someone, the father alleged the new boyfriend posed a threat to the child’s safety and requested sole custody in court. The court temporarily awarded the father sole custody, and when the mother challenged, the court entered a permanent change in the parenting schedule, making the father the parent of primary residence and significantly reducing the mother’s parenting time. The judge made these decisions without an investigation or a hearing and did not give the parents an opportunity to resolve their issues amicably.
Requirements for All NJ Child Custody Cases
On appeal, the appellate judge held that certain requirements must be adhered to in all New Jersey child custody cases, no matter the docket type. For example, parents must attend custody and parenting time mediation prior to a trial, and if they are unable to resolve their issues in mediation, they must submit a custody and parenting time plan to the court. Also, an investigative report must be prepared by court staff before any custody determination is made, and judges must explicitly make findings of fact and apply those facts to the custody factors provided by New Jersey law. These include the parents’ ability to communicate in matters relating to the child, the needs of the child, the stability of the home environment, and more.
Speak with an Experienced New Jersey Child Custody Lawyer
If you have questions about child custody in New Jersey, please contact the law office of John B. D’Alessandro at 908-964-0102. Obtaining clear and correct information is the first step to protecting and asserting your parental rights.