Melinda L. Singer, Esquire
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When New Jersey parents file for divorce, the entire process becomes more complicated if they have minor children. Parents can negotiate a custody arrangement that would best suit them, but the judge has the final say. The court considers a range of factors to assess whether the child custody and parenting plans negotiated by the parents is in the best interests of the child.

Along with the circumstances of each parent, the court will look at their respective capacity to parent in a way that will keep the child safe and happy. The "best interest" standard must be the basis of all decisions made for custody, parenting and visitation. When divorcing parents seek the court's approval of a negotiated custody arrangement, the court will look at more than the child's safety and happiness immediately after the divorce, but also the parents' ability to protect the child's mental and emotional health going forward.

Most family courts encourage parents to maintain loving, close relationships with their children regardless of whether they will share parenting time equally or designate one parent as having primary physical custody. But not every circumstance fits this understandable goal. If there is a history of domestic violence, emotional or physical abuse, or parental alcohol or drug abuse, the court will consider those matters when issuing a child custody order.

The most sensible step would be to retain the services of an experienced child custody attorney who is familiar with the New Jersey family laws and the court system. Legal counsel can assist with negotiations or mediation between parents. The lawyer can explain the "best interests of the child" standards, and assist with drafting a settlement agreement to present to the court for approval, or litigate the issues when an agreement is not possible.

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