There was once a time that parents stayed together for the sake of the children. For some, there was a presumption that mothers would be awarded custody. As a result, a great many fathers expressed concern that they would never see their kids unless the family unit remained intact. Fortunately, times have changed. In fact, many courts are ordering 50/50 parenting plans. The idea is to foster environments that are in your children’s best interests.
Despite the evolution of child custody and parenting time laws, you may not be aware of the shift in judicial opinions. Courts are bound by NJSA 9:2-4 that makes it public policy for minor children to have “frequent and continuing contact with both parents” even if the mother and father have elected to part. With the rights of both parents, also comes an expectation to assume their share of child-rearing responsibilities.
A determination concerning custody itself is not finalized until the divorce concludes. In the meantime, the court makes a pendent lite ruling regarding custody. According to NJSA 9:2-3, temporary custody is “based upon the best interests of the child with due regard to the caretaking arrangement that previously existed.” However, parenting time schedules are also considered during the same court hearing.
It’s an all too familiar story. Maybe your wife is still breastfeeding and uses this as a reason to spend more time with your infant child. You have no problem with her assuming custody until the divorce goes through. On the one hand, this might make sense to you. However, you both need the opportunity to bond with your baby. Splitting up parenting time makes sense.
In a best-case scenario, you and your child’s other parent should come up with a custody arrangement, including a visitation schedule. Otherwise, the court makes the determination for you.
Setting Up a Parenting Plan
In case you’re not familiar with the term “parenting time,” it’s a replacement for what was formerly referred to as child visitation. You don’t babysit for your own child when you’re together. Instead, you are doing your share as a parent. Thus, you are not visiting your children; you are parenting them.
Parenting time arrangements can shape up differently depending on individual cases. One consideration is obviously the availability of both parents are far as work and other obligations. Meanwhile, children’s involvement in extracurricular activities may be reviewed. In all cases, the court takes into account the best interests of the children in setting up parenting time.
Best Interests of the Children
When considering what is in the children’s best interests, the courts review many aspects of the family. For example, it’s not a good idea to speak poorly about your child’s other parent. Efforts to alienate your child can only have a negative impact. In the long run, they will work against you when you are attempting to make a case denying parenting time.
New Jersey case law strongly emphasizes that children have the right to the affection of both parents. Admittedly, it may be challenging to encourage love and respect to someone who has hurt you in any regard. However, it is most often in your children’s best interests to share time with both parents.
Parental alienation comes in a few forms. The most obvious is telling children you won’t love them if they see the other parent. Meanwhile, disclosing personal information to tarnish the other parent’s reputation can be harmful. Obviously, preventing access to the child’s mother or father is a type of alienation.
In determining parenting time, the court will want to know how involved the non-custodial parent was before the separation. What attempts have been made to visit with the children after the parents split? Are there legitimate concerns about overnight visits? Here are some other issues that come under consideration:
- Physical accommodations
- History of domestic violence
- Drug or alcohol abuse
In making a case to deny or restrict visitation, a parent may make claims. The court will review allegations to determine if they posed a risk to the child. For example, sending a toddler home in mismatched clothes is of little consequence. Similarly, occupational instability does not justify limiting the child/parental relationship.
50/50 Parenting Plan
The goal of 50/50 parenting time is to give equal access to parents to their children, as well as strengthening children’s relationship with both their mothers and fathers. In many cases, this type of parenting time may be set up on a temporary basis. Courts often order mediation to go over the issues before the finalization of the divorce.
Generally speaking, your attorney will work with you to come with a proposed parenting schedule that gives you equal time with your child. Your spouse’s attorney will also submit a plan. The court will review both and make modifications as appropriate.