Fathers and Custody Rights in New Jersey
The Washington Post reported in December 2017 that the traditional standard of awarding custody to a mother and granting every other weekend visiting rights to the father is changing. The new norm in many states, including New Jersey, now favors shared custody and co-parenting. In the past, states often favored mothers over fathers on the dated theory that mothers are more nurturing. In the past, mothers were also favored because the fathers worked while mothers stayed home. That’s not true anymore. Now, women constitute a significant part of the workforce across virtually every occupation. All of that equals a better chance of a father getting full custody of the children.
Fathers “should” have the same right to obtain custody as mothers.
Unmarried Fathers Rights in New Jersey
New Jersey’s custody statutes make clear that the right of both the father and mother must be considered. The statute provides:
“…It is in the public policy of this State to assure minor children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage and that it is in the public interest to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child-rearing in order to effect this policy.” “In any proceeding involving the custody of a minor child, the rights of both parents shall be equal…”
That means that fathers have the same chance of getting full custody as mothers. However, parents should work to reach their own custody agreement. If they can’t, the family court judge will review each parent’s custody position and make a decision that is in the best interest of the children.
Does the Type of Custody Make a Difference in a Father’s Chances of Getting Full Custody?
There usually are two parts to a custody order:
- Physical custody. This is the determination of the residential arrangements. A child normally resides with one parent or alternates residences between parents – according to the needs of the child and parents. When people think about custody, they usually think of physical custody. In New Jersey, a father’s chance of getting full physical custody is the same as the mother’s.
- Legal custody. This is the determination about which parent makes major decisions about each child’s education, health, and welfare. In New Jersey, there is a presumption that legal custody should be shared by both parents.
New Jersey has several types of parenting arrangements:
- Shared: When the non-custodial parent exercises at least 2 overnights per week on average with the children, then this is called a shared parenting arrangement.
- Sole: When the non-custodial parent exercises less than 2 overnights per week on average with the children, this is called a sole parenting arrangement.
Typically, sole custody will only be ordered if there is some evidence of child abuse or child neglect. A parent who has any substance (drug or alcohol) abuse problems may also be denied joint custody until he/she successfully confronts that abuse problem. Substance or child abuse will have a negative effect on either the mother’s or the father’s chance of getting full custody.
Odds of Fathers Winning Custody: What factors may favor a father in a New Jersey custody case?
The family court will consider the following factors in making a custody determination. To increase the father’s chance of getting full physical custody or joint custody, he should work to show he can satisfy these factors:
- The ability of the parents to agree, communicate, and cooperate with each other about issues related to the child
- The willingness of each parent to accept custody and the unwillingness of a parent to allow parenting time where there is no showing of abuse
- How the child relates with the parents and any siblings
- No history of domestic violence or physical abuse this is vital to increasing a father’s chance of getting full physical custody
- A child’s custody preference if the child is of sufficient age (normally 8 years old or older) to make an intelligent decision
- The child’s needs, including any special needs
- The stability of the home environment
- The quality and continuity of the child’s education
- Each parent’s fitness
- Geographical considerations. This includes how close the father lives to the mother. It also includes whether the father and mother live in the same school district
- The extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to the separation
- The employment possibilities and status of the father and mother
- The ages of each child
Generally, a “parent shall not be deemed unfit unless the parents’ conduct has a substantial adverse effect on the child.”
What are the chances of a father getting full custody: Practical Considerations
In practice, some of the factors that can affect a father’s change of getting full custody include:
- Whether the minor child is of preschool age. Preschool children need around the clock attention. But if a father works from home or has a flexible work schedule then this should not be a factor.
- The parents’ employment status. If one parent works away from home and the other parent can stay home, family courts generally favor the stay-at-home parent. If both parents have careers, then both parents should joint custody – though it helps to explain who will tend to the child after school but before the parent’s workday is over. A stay-at-home father’s chance of getting full physical custody is better than a father who is required to travel for his job.
- Child support. Fathers should make sure they agree to and pay child support. In some cases, the mother may have the duty to pay child support depending on their relative incomes.
The focus of every argument should be that the father’s involvement in the life of the child is in the best interests of the child. Children with two active parents usually are happier, healthier, and more successful.
Fathers should make clear from the start (when a divorce is filed or the parents separate), that they want shared or sole custody. It generally helps fathers to show they are willing to work with the mother for the child’s benefits. Fathers shouldn’t argue about expenses. Courts want to know a father’s focus isn’t on saving money but what is best for the child. That will help a father’s chance of getting full custody.
What Percentage of Fathers Get Custody:
According to CustodyXChange.com, fathers in many states, including New Jersey, obtain custody about 50% of the time. This doesn’t mean that fathers get full custody. New Jersey, as we mention, favors joint custody.
Odds of Fathers Winning Custody: Can unmarried fathers obtain custody?
If the parents are not married, a father must establish paternity in order to pursue a custody claim. Paternity can be established by a formal Certificate of Parentage, which both parents agree to sign. Otherwise, paternity is established through a “paternity action.” A judge may require that mother, father, and child all submit to genetic testing.
Once paternity is established, there is no requirement that a parent is married in order to obtain custody. That means the father has an equal chance of getting full custody. There may be some practical considerations though. If a father (or mother) works, someone needs to look after the children when they aren’t in school. A new spouse can help in that regard.
At DeTorres & DeGeorge Family Law, our family lawyers are strong advocates for both fathers and mothers. When parents can’t agree, we work with mediators and use collaborative divorce consultations to try to reach a custody agreement. If necessary, we try your case in court. To speak with an experienced New Jersey custody lawyer, call us at 908-691-2104 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment. We have offices in Clinton and Morristown.