The New Jersey courts believe that the best child custody orders are those which are created by the agreement of parents who are divorcing or separating, because they know better than anyone else ever could what will work best for their family. That said, there are situations in which parents have a hard time working together to create a custody plan to propose to the court. In these cases, the court will step in and make a decision about custody. When the court makes custody decisions, it is guided by the goal of ordering an arrangement that will serve the best interest of the child or children of the parties.
The factors which go into a “best interest of the child” analysis are contained in N.J.S.A. 9:2-4. Some of the factors are practical considerations, such as the parents’ employment responsibilities and work schedules, and the geographic locations of the parents’ homes and the children’s schools and day care providers. These factors address the basic aspects of a family’s current and future schedule, because courts want to ensure that any custody arrangement that they decide upon is logistically appropriate for the parents and children to whom it applies.
Other factors which the court considers in custody decisions are related to the behaviors and actions of the parents, including how much time each of them spent with the children both before and after the separation, how well they communicate and work together in matters relating to the children, and whether each of them is supportive of the children’s relationship with their other parent. New Jersey courts feel that in most cases, children want and need to have strong relationships with both of their parents, and they aim to create custody decisions that will support those relationships. The wishes of both the parents and children who are old enough to form well-reasoned decisions are also considered by the court in custody cases. The number and age of the children, as well as the relationships between the siblings are another set of considerations which factor into a custody award. Safety issues like domestic violence, drug and alcohol use, and moral fitness of the parents are given significant weight in custody decisions.