Child custody: How is the child’s best interest determined?

Child-related decisions in family courts nationwide, including New Jersey are based on the best interests of the child. Judges look at various factors when they consider child custody arrangements. The first consideration will be the mental and physical health of the parent seeking custody, along with his or her ability to meet the child’s emotional and physical needs. Included are shelter, food, clothing, education and medical care — to be provided with loving care, support and parental guidance.

Courts will also consider the age of the child and the existing bond between the child and the parent. Younger children typically require more hands-on and dedicated care than those who are older, and in some cases, the judge might consider older children’s wishes. Changes in routines and surroundings are usually carefully examined to limit the negative impact they could have on the child.

The courts typically prefer circumstances that will not be too different from existing routines. The judge will consider living arrangements, child care or school routines, relationships with extended family members and access to them, and other routine changes that might occur. The safety of the child is always of utmost importance. Any circumstances that might jeopardize the child’s safety will likely result in a custody request being denied.

Most New Jersey parents who file for divorce want what is best for their children, and help is available to reach child custody agreements that will best suit the needs of their children. An experienced family law attorney can assist with negotiations. A lawyer might even arrange for a family law mediator to facilitate communication between parents who struggle to achieve an acceptable parenting plan.