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What Is a Custodial Parent in New Jersey?

parents arguing over custody - custodial parent concept

Our clients often ask about what it means to be the “custodial parent.” Does the custodial parent have special rights? Do they have the sole right to make important decisions about their children? If one parent is the custodial parent, does the other parent retain any rights? Continue reading to learn about the custodial parent under New Jersey family law, and reach out to a dedicated New Jersey child custody and parental rights attorney for help protecting your family.

Legal vs. Residential Custody in New Jersey

Child custody is a broad term referring to a bundle of parental rights and obligations. New Jersey law splits custody rights into “legal” and “residential” or “physical” custody, and a given child custody arrangement can see that parents share each set of rights or that one parent maintains “sole” legal or physical custody.

Legal custody concerns the right to make important decisions about a child’s upbringing, including their health care, education, and welfare. A parent with legal custody has the right to, for example, make medical decisions for the child, decide whether the child will attend religious schooling, make decisions about the child’s extracurricular activities and free time, and make other general decisions about the child’s welfare.

A parent with sole legal custody has the exclusive right to make all of these decisions for their child. New Jersey courts typically prefer some form of shared or joint legal custody, however, meaning both parents will share in the important decisions regarding the child’s welfare and upbringing. If there’s an unsolvable dispute on a particular issue, the parents could ask the court to decide who has the ultimate say (for example, regarding the child’s religious upbringing).

Residential or physical custody concerns where the child resides. If a parent has primary residential custody, that means that the child lives primarily or exclusively with that parent. The other parent may still have rights to visitation or parenting time.

Sole residential custody is rare. Unless one parent poses a danger to the child, the parent is unfit, or it’s simply impossible for the parents to work together, the court will order some type of joint custody. If the child lives with one parent more than half the time, it’s considered a “primary residential custody” arrangement. If the child splits time with the parents equally, the parents have shared residential custody.

The parents may alternate weeks, the child may spend weekdays with one parent and weekends with the other, or the parents may come up with some alternate arrangement. New Jersey courts will help the parents aim for a roughly 50/50 arrangement where possible.

Typically, even if one parent has primary residential custody, the other parent will still maintain some legal custody rights. And, if the parents have shared physical custody, they almost certainly have joint legal custody.

Custodial Parent in New Jersey

The term “custodial parent” refers to the parent with whom the child spends the majority of their time. Custodial parent thus generally refers to physical custody. If the custodial parent has sole physical and legal custody over a child–for example, because the child’s other parent is in prison–that parent does not need to share any custodial rights with the other parent, although the non-custodial parent might still be entitled to parenting time (supervised or unsupervised visitation).

More commonly, the non-custodial parent will maintain some legal and/or residential custody rights. They’ll likely have the power to share in decisions about the child’s upbringing (legal custody), and the child may spend regular nights at their home as well (physical custody or visitation). The custodial parent may, for practical purposes, have the dominant say about the child’s day-to-day activities, but the parents will share responsibility for the bigger decisions about the child’s life.

The term “custodial parent” often comes into play concerning child support. The custodial parent lives with the child most days, takes care of the child’s day-to-day needs, and is entitled to receive child support from the non-custodial parent.

Call for Trusted Legal Advice and Zealous Representation for Your New Jersey Child Custody Dispute

If you have questions about child custody or a parental rights dispute, or if you are dealing with divorce, alimony, or other family law matters in New Jersey, contact the Law Office of John B. D’Alessandro in Union to discuss your concerns. From temporary orders for child custody or support while your divorce case is underway to final orders or post-divorce modification motions, our experienced and thorough family law attorney is here to advise and represent you.

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