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Parenting Plans & Visitation

There are a lot of hard issues to work out in a divorce settlement, but perhaps none is more difficult than what to do with the children. Talking about our kids–to say nothing of having to negotiate over them–can be emotionally charged and there’s quite a few practical matters that must be taken into consideration. A Monmouth County child custody attorney from our office can help you fight for the best interests of your children and yourself during this difficult time.

Contact us today at 732-361-4827 to learn how our Monmouth County child custody lawyers can help you establish a fair custody, visitation and parenting plan.

Four Types of Custody

Custody can be defined four different ways and under two different umbrellas.

In one category are legal custody and physical custody. Physical custody determines where the children will live. Legal custody refers to authority in decision-making over important matters involving medical care, education, and religious upbringing. It’s possible that one parent might have primary physical custody, but both parents could share equally in legal custody.

The second category includes joint custody and sole custody. As the terms imply, joint custody is shared equally. Sole custody gives primary control to one parent.

Therefore, a settlement can involve different combinations of custody. For example…

  • Joint physical custody–Under this settlement, the children live with each parent for equal amounts of time. Maybe it’s a week on and a week off, or perhaps it’s a different interval. But the time spent under each parent’s physical care is shared equally.
  • Sole legal custody–In this situation, one parent has exclusive control over where the children go to school, what religion (if any) they will be brought up in and how to handle any medical decisions.
  • Joint legal custody–A joint settlement would require the parents to share decision-making and reach consensus on issues of education, religion, and healthcare.
  • Sole physical custody—This arrangement has the kids live exclusively with one parent (the custodial parent), with visitation rights usually given to the other, non-custodial parent.

What all these examples and combinations underscore is that you and your spouse do have options for working out the best custody arrangement possible for yourselves and your children.

There is often room for discussion and mutual agreement–maybe one parent has strong feelings about religious upbringing or where the kids should go to school, while another is convinced that their home will be best for the long-term interests of the children. Under these circumstances, the parents might negotiate sole physical custody, but joint legal custody.

What to Consider in Your Custody Plan

Every couple has the right to negotiate their own custody plan. While a judge will have to sign off on the final settlement agreement, you and your spouse can consider what will be best for your kids. Our Monmouth County custody lawyers can help you draft a plan that has the best chance of passing both judicial muster, as well as serving your interests as your children continue to grow.

A strong custody arrangement will be marked by specificity. For example, if you settle on sole physical custody with visitation rights, you want to really spell out those rights. Language like “Non-custodial spouse will pick up children from school on Friday and drop them back off at home no later than 7 PM on Sunday evening.”

Holiday arrangements might be made under terms of “Custodial parent gets children from the point school lets out for winter break through December 26 at noon. Non-custodial parent picks up kids at noon on December 26 and returns them home at 7 PM the night before school resumes.”

If the issue falls under legal custody, the agreement might say “Primary custodial parent will make all decisions regarding the healthcare of the children. Non-custodial parent makes all decisions regarding religious upbringing and must be consulted on all decisions regarding education.”

Whatever your arrangement is, spell it out. Language can be drafted that creates flexibility off that arrangement, but you need a well-written legal basis for everything in your custody plan.

How a New Jersey Court Will Settle Custody & Visitation

Parents have strong incentive to come to an agreement themselves. If they can’t, a judge will decide for them. The court also prefers that couples work out their own custody plans, so it’s possible the first judicial order will be to send the spouses to mediation. If that fails, the judge has unilateral authority to settle custody disputes.

When that happens, it is imperative that a good lawyer be present to advocate for your case. If you believe that you have a better knowledge of medicine and should therefore have control over that facet of legal custody, the judge needs to know it–and have your expertise proven in court. If your home is better for the stability of the kids, you need to document and present those reasons to the judge. The ultimate decision of a judge will only be as good as the information they get, and your lawyer is the one responsible for making your case in the strongest possible way.

New Jersey law commands the judge to have “the best interests of the child” uppermost in mind in all facets of decision-making. That’s what will be considered if a custody evaluation–a home study by a trained mental health professional–is ordered. It’s already what you’re thinking about when it comes to your children. Your lawyer can help you articulate your view in ways that best correspond to New Jersey’s legal standards.

The “best interests of the child” is also determinative in matters like the rights of grandparents. Strictly speaking, the grandparents of a child do not have rights for custody or visitation. But let’s say the child in question is 12 years old at the time of divorce. They have lived their entire life with their grandmother as a part of the household. The divorce is going to disrupt that, but the grandmother might make a compelling case that required visitation is in the best interest of the child, to help them retain some sense of stability in a turbulent time.

The examples we have used thus far presume that both parents can talk to each other or, at the very least, that both are fit caretakers. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. There are times when one spouse struggles with drug or alcohol addiction. There are cases where domestic violence, either physical or verbal, is present. Or one parent may simply have shown a consistent lack of interest in the kids through the years and their decision to fight for custody seems something of a mystery to you and your family.

In these situations, your lawyer can help you prepare for the legal fight ahead. The challenge is proving these things in a court of law. It’s one thing to know that your spouse has been drinking too much. It’s another to persuade a judge of this fact. Your Monmouth County child custody lawyer can help you pull together evidence that gives you the best chance at making this all-important case in court. If you are successful, a judge may award you sole custody and has the option of requiring that visitations from your ex be done under legal supervision.

The Details Matter

A good custody plan requires knowledge of the details that should be present and of evidence that may need to be gathered. Zeigler Law Group, LLC exists precisely to provide you with the good legal counsel you need, the experience of past custody agreements to draw from and the studious understanding of New Jersey law that can help us fight for what you know to be the best interests of your children. Call us today at 732-361-4827 to set up a consultation or contact us online.

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Sonya Zeigler

Sonya K Zeigler, Esq.

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We have repeatedly provided trusted legal counsel, with the solid goal of de-mystifying what is often a client’s first experience with our judicial system.

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