Are you under the impression that the law is applied differently when it comes to child custody for infants? If so, you are under a misconception. The court is required to act in your child’s best interests. Your child’s age is just one of the fourteen factors considered when making child custody determinations.
New Jersey law stresses the importance of assuring children of “frequent and continuing contact with both parents.” The goal is further intended to encourage parents to take responsibility for their children and also enjoy their parental rights. We mentioned that the court takes at least fourteen factors under advisement when determining child custody. They are broken down as follows:
- The parents' ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child;
- The parents' willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse;
- The interaction and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings;
- The history of domestic violence, if any;
- The safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent;
- The preference of the child when of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision;
- The needs of the child;
- The stability of the home environment offered;
- The quality and continuity of the child's education;
10. The fitness of the parents;
11. The geographical proximity of the parents' homes;
12. The extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to the separation;
13. The parents' employment responsibilities; and
14. The age and number of the children.
We have already informed you that parents themselves can come to our agreement regarding child custody, although the court must approve any settlement. For information concerning negotiating child custody and parenting time, please see our article on Custody and Parenting Time Mediation.
Recent Court Opinion Focuses on Infant Child Custody Case
The New Jersey Appellate Division recently considered a case involving infant child custody. In Fisher v. Szczyglowski, N.J. Super. App. Div., the parents, Melissa Fisher and Gregory Szczyglowski were in a dating relationship for approximately two years before their son was born in January 2014. The court used the pseudonym Tom to protect the child’s identity in the court opinion.
Both Melissa and Gregory are employees of the United States Navy. Melissa is stationed in New Jersey and lives approximately 200 miles away from Gregory’s residence in Maryland. During the first five months of Tom’s life, the couple lived together with their infant son. They split the time between the New Jersey and Maryland residences.
In June of 2014, Melissa returned to work. It was around the same time that the couple ended their relationship. Approximately a month later, Melissa filed legal papers and requested custody of Tom. Gregory responded with a request for joint legal custody and also asked the court to order him physical custody of the infant child.
The couple was court-ordered to attend custody and parenting time mediation. They could not come to a satisfactory agreement but did come up with a temporary solution. Gregory would have parenting time with Tom on alternate weeks from Thursday until Sunday. This was beneficial to the child as the father was able to take off work on alternate Fridays and spend time with his son.
The court hearing for custody was held in December of 2014. Gregory was no longer looking for full physical custody. He altered his request to equal parenting time. Melissa agreed that the parties should both have parenting time. However, she did not feel it should be equal. Melissa asked that the court keep the parenting schedule to the one used on a temporary basis.
Melissa’s argument cited her concerns. She stated that the fact that she was breast-feeding warranted more time with the infant child. She also was worried that Tom would be placed in daycare if the parenting time schedule was changed. Melissa cited other factors as well. She said that she had been the primary caretaker for a longer period of time and that the baby was bonded to her more closely. Melissa cited concerns about Tom traveling more frequently. She also brought what she perceived as a threat to the court’s attention. Melissa claimed that Gregory said that he would not keep Tom and not return him.
At the conclusion of the lower court hearing, the judge ordered shared and equal custody. Both parents would assume custody of Tom on alternating weeks. Melissa was not pleased with the decision and suggested that the judge had not applied all of the fourteen factors considered in a custody case.
The Appellate Division disagreed and affirmed the trial court’s decision. All of the factors that were applicable had been considered. You may enjoy reading the complete opinion here.