How is child custody determined?

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New Jersey statute gives each parent equal rights to the custody of a child.  Courts prefer not to make custody arrangements, and will enforce the agreements voluntarily entered into by the parties so long as the arrangement is in the best interest of the child.  However, there are several types of child custody arrangements, including joint legal custody, where one parent serves as the parent of primary residence and joint physical custody where the child spends nearly half of  his or her time with each of the parents.  When the court must make a decision regarding child custody, the court will consider a variety of factors.  New Jersey courts encourage each parent to advance the respect, love and relationship of the child with the other parent, recognizing this as the child's right and in the best interest of the child.  Only in rare and exceptional cases will a New Jersey court deny parenting time to one parent where it clearly and convincingly appears that it will cause physical or emotional harm to the child or where it is demonstrated that the parent is unfit.