Emotional Abuse and Child Custody in New Jersey


Emotional Abuse and Child Custody in New Jersey

In New Jersey, the family judge will consider emotional abuse in deciding physical and legal child custody of your child. The New Jersey child custody statute specifically authorizes that the judge can consider the following factors, among many others. Emotional abuse and child custody are interconnected in the following factors:

“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 stability of the home environment offered”

The fitness of the parent (parents aren’t considered unfit unless a parent’s conduct ‘has a substantial adverse effect on the child.”

How do you prove emotional neglect?

Proving emotional neglect requires evidence. It helps if other people can support your claim of mental abuse. Evidence is key to being successful in an emotional abuse and child custody case.

Emotional abuse is behavior and words that make a person feel as though they’re worthless. The effect of emotional abuse can last a lifetime. Examples of emotional abuse include:


Demeaning a parent/child on a routine basis

Trying to control a person’s behavior


Denying a person (such as a parent) access to financial resources

Emotional abuse can cause a parent or child to suffer depression and loss of confidence. Some victims of emotional abuse suffer post-traumatic stress disorder. Victims may find it difficult to build and keep relationships. In tragic cases, some victims even consider suicide.

How a New Jersey family lawyer helps parents and children who are subject to emotional abuse assert their custody rights or custody concerns

Emotional abuse and child custody cases require the help of experienced family lawyers. A caring lawyer will help you take steps to confirm the abuse such as keeping records and arranging for you and/or your children to consult with a psychologist. The attorney will explain your rights. In emotional abuse and child custody cases, the family judge may appoint a guardian ad litem or a lawyer who represents the child’s interests. If children are old enough, they may be able to state their own custody preferences.

A few common steps, according to Our Everyday Life, are to:

Request that the court order a custody evaluation. Normally, if you claim that your child is the subject of emotional abuse, the judge will consider having a child psychologist examine your child for signs and symptoms of emotional abuse, bullying, or verbal attacks. The psychologist will normally conduct interviews of you, your spouse, and your children. The psychologist will also conduct psychological tests to help reach a professional conclusion. After the interviews and tests, the psychologist will present her/his findings to the judge.

The role of guardian ad litem (GAL). The GAL may act as an advocate for your child in emotional abuse and child custody cases. The GAL may also act more like a psychologist and help assess whether there are signs of emotional abuse. In addition to speaking with parents, the GAL may speak with your child’s doctors, other family members, and your child’s teachers. Statements of non-biased neighbors may also help.

Your lawyer will assert your rights by seeking to question and/or depose everyone who has information about the emotional abuse. In addition to depositions, your lawyer has the right to call all relevant witnesses to testify in a child custody court hearing.

Is mental abuse grounds for emergency custody?

New Jersey does provide for special procedures that give a parent a right to request an emergency custody order of your child. Your lawyer will explain the requirements which include:

  •         The filing of an Order to Show cause why you shouldn’t be granted emergency custody
  •         Notifying the abusive parent
  •         Requesting a hearing date
  •         Showing that your child is in immediate danger and that your child may suffer irreparable harm if emergency custody isn’t granted.

If the judge grants the emergency custody order, a fuller hearing to address custody will be held within a short time frame after the order is granted.

Emotional Abuse and Child Custody: Can a Parent Lose Custody?

Generally, emotional abuse is more than just a one-time temper loss or a one-time event. The judge, psychologist, and GAL will be looking, in emotional abuse and child custody cases, to see if there is a pattern of emotional abuse.

Normally, the emotional abuse must be clear and severe in order for a judge to grant sole legal and/or sole physical custody to one parent and not to the parent accused of emotional abuse.

At DeTorres & DeGeorge Family Law, our divorce lawyers advocate for parents and children in emotional abuse and child custody cases. While many custody disputes are resolved on a friendly basis, we recognize that some parents are not fit or stable enough to take an active role in your child’s life. We fight to ensure that evidence of emotional abuse is fully disclosed to the New Jersey family court. We seek custody orders that reflect a parent’s emotional abuse – including advocating that a parent be denied child custody while the abusive behavior exists. To speak with an experienced family lawyer who understands emotional abuse and child custody, call us at 908-691-2104 or complete our contact form to schedule an appointment. We have offices in Clinton and Morristown.

Rosanne S. DeTorres
Ms. DeTorres is the managing partner and co-founder of DeTorres & DeGeorge Family Law. She is also only one of 150 attorneys in the State of NJ that is certified by the NJ Supreme Court as a Matrimonial Law Attorney. Ms. DeTorres graduated...
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