Child Support


Types of Custody

Child custody issues often arise between divorcing or unmarried parents. There are two types of custody: physical custody and legal custody. The parent that the child lives with has “physical custody” also sometimes called “residential custody.”


Legal custody refers to the decision-making abilities. In other words, a parent with “legal custody” has authority to make major decisions affecting a child’s health, education, safety, and welfare.


Parents with legal custody are entitled to participate in decisions about things such as where a child will go to school, when the child needs to go to the doctor, or whether or not a child will attend religious services or instruction. Parents with legal custody are also entitled to full access to doctors, medical records, and school records.


“Sole physical custody” or “sole residential custody” means that a child lives with one parent most of the time and spends less than two overnights per week with the non-custodial parent (this may include some additional vacation or holiday time).


If a child spends more than approximately two overnights per week with each parent, the parents have “shared physical custody.”


New Jersey laws refer to one parent as the “parent of primary residence” and the other as the “parent of alternate residence.” These designations can affect things like child support calculations and a child’s legal residence for school attendance.

Custody Factors

New Jersey courts generally favor shared parenting responsibilities and frequent contact between the child and both parents. The courts, however, make custody determinations based on the best interests of the child. When determining custody, courts consider any factor that affects the child’s best interests, including the following:

  • the parents' ability to agree, communicate, and cooperate on parenting issues

  • each parent’s willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse

  • the child’s interaction and relationship with parents and siblings

  • any history of domestic violence

  • the safety of the child and either parent from physical abuse by the other parent

  • the preference of a child who is old enough to make an intelligent decision

  • the child’s needs

  • the stability of each parent’s home environment

  • the quality and continuity of the child's education

  • each parent’s fitness

  • how close the parents live to each other

  • the extent and quality of the time each parent spent with the child both before and since the separation

  • each parent’s employment responsibilities, and

  • the ages and number of the children.

Changing an Existing Custody Arrangement

Child custody arrangements are generally not considered “final.” This means that once a child custody arrangement has established, either by court order or an agreement between parents, either parent can try to modify or change the arrangement.


The parent requesting a modification has to prove that a significant “change of circumstances” has occurred since the original custody arrangement was created. To do this, the parent must file a motion (legal paperwork) seeking a change in custody that explains why a change should be granted.

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