Child Custody Actions

New Jersey courts encourage parents to work together to ensure that their children have good relationships and frequent contact with both parents. However, if parents are unable to reach a decision about child custody or visitation, one of them can petition the court to make a decision regarding these matters that the parents are bound by.

New Jersey’s child custody laws can be complicated and can affect your relationship with your child for years to come. A child custody lawyer from Pontoriero Family Law, LLC can answer any questions you have about the process and can take the necessary steps to protect your legal rights.

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Different Types of Child Custody in New Jersey

New Jersey recognizes various types of child custody. The two most important terms are “physical custody” and “legal custody.” Physical custody refers to where the child lives and spends time. Legal custody refers to the right to make important decisions about your child’s life, such as where they go to school or what religion they grow up in.

In matters dealing with child custody, NJSA 9:2-4 provides that “in any proceeding involving the custody of a minor child. . . the court shall enter an order which may include….

a.Joint custody of a minor child to both parents, which is comprised of legal custody or physical custody which shall include: (1) provisions for residential arrangements so that a child shall reside either solely with one parent or alternatively with each parent in accordance with the needs of the parents and the child; and (2) provisions for consultation between the parents in making major decisions regarding the child’s health, education and general welfare;

b. Sole custody to one parent with appropriate parenting time for the noncustodial parent; or

c. Any other custody arrangement as the court may determine to be in the best interests of the child.”

Certain terms that have evolved regarding custody include, but are not limited to, the following:

Primary Residential/Physical Custody – This term refers to the parent whose home the child spends the majority of their time in.

Parent of Primary Residence – This term is given to the parent awarded primary physical custody.

Parent of Alternate Residence – This term is given to the parent who is not awarded primary physical custody.

Sole Physical Custody – This term applies when the child stays with one parent full-time and the other parent has no parenting time with the child.

Shared Residential/Physical Custody – This term applies when both parents have physical custody of the child for substantial portions, such as when alternating weeks or splitting weeks up between the two households.

Joint Legal Custody – This form of custody applies when both parents have the right to make major decisions for their child.

Sole Legal Custody– This form of custody applies when one parent has the sole right to make major decisions for the child.


In New Jersey cases involving child custody or parenting time, the Court is usually required to refer the parents to Mediation. In Mediation, a neutral third party tries to help the parents reach an amicable decision regarding child custody without the court’s interference.


If Mediation does not help resolve the custody issue, the parents may hire, or the Court may appoint, experts to assist in making the determination of what is in the children’s best interests. Some of the things an expert may be retained to perform, include, a Custody Neutral Assessment, Best Interests Evaluation, Custody Evaluation, Psychological Evaluation, Risk Assessment, and/or other types of assessments to assist the Court in determining custody and parenting time.

Factors New Jersey Courts Consider When Awarding Child Custody

The best interests of the child is the paramount consideration when the Court determines custody and parenting time. The child custody statute in New Jersey is set forth in NJSA 9:2-4.

The child custody statute provides that “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.”

NJSA 9:2-4 sets forth the factors that the Court “shall consider but not be limited to…

1. the parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child;

2. the parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse;

3. the interaction and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings; the history of domestic violence, if any;

4. the safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent;

5. the preference of the child when of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision;

6. the needs of the child;

7. the stability of the home environment offered;

8. the quality and continuity of the child’s education;

9. the fitness of the parents;

10. the geographical proximity of the parents’ homes;

11. the extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to the separation;

12. the parents’ employment responsibilities; and

13. the age and number of the children.”

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Unfit Parent

The statutory standard set forth in NJSA 9:2-4(c) to deem a parent “unfit” is if the parents’ conduct has a “substantial adverse effect on the child.” There is case law in New Jersey that interprets this language and it is crucial you retain an experienced family law attorney in New Jersey to assist in understanding the meaning.

Parties can Make Their Own Custody Arrangements Under Child Custody Laws in NJ

The parents themselves can come to an agreement in regard to custody and parenting time. Courts encourage the parties to come to their own agreement. This is the preferred method since the parents should be the one deciding their child’s future, not a third party who is essentially a stranger to both of you. The cost and stress of custody battles is massive. Fighting takes time and money away from investing both into the child and could result in resentment and anger and strains on the parent/child relationship and most certainly the relationship with the other parent. Custody agreements will be respected by the Courts as long as they are not inconsistent with the best interest of the children.

Contact a Knowledgeable New Jersey Child Custody Lawyer for Help with Your Case

If you would like assistance with your child custody or parenting time case, Pontoriero Family Law, LLC can help. Susan Pontoriero is an experienced family law attorney who helps parents fight for, defend against, and modify child custody cases. Set up a confidential consultation by calling (732) 785-9700 or emailing at We look forward to speaking with you.

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Pontoriero Family Law, LLC

2597 Hooper Avenue
Brick, NJ 08723