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Know the Laws: New Jersey

UPDATED February 3, 2016

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WomensLaw.org strongly recommends that you get help from an organization in your area before proceeding with court action.To find help in your area, please go to the NJ Where to Find Help page.

Basic info

back to topWhat is custody?

Custody is the legal responsibility for the care and control of your child (under 18). The court may give custody of your child to one or both parents. There are 2 types of custody: legal and physical.

Legal custody is the right to make major decisions about your child. Some types of decisions included in the right of legal custody are: where your child goes to school, whether your child gets surgery and what kind of religious training your child receives.

Physical custody refers to who your child lives with on a day-to-day basis. It is the physical care and supervision of your child.*

*NJSA §2A:34-54

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back to topWhat are some of the advantages and disadvantages of getting a custody order?

Some people decide not to get a custody order because they don't want to get the courts involved. They may have an informal agreement that works well for them or may think going to court will provoke the other parent.

Getting a custody order can give you:

  • The right to make decisions about your child
  • The right to have your child live with you.

If you decide not to get a custody order, then you and the other parent likely have equal rights to making decisions and living arrangements. The exception to this is when paternity has not been legally established.

There are multiple ways that paternity (legal fatherhood) can be established in NJ. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • The child is born during the marriage or within 300 days after the marriage ends;*
  • The father signs a Certificate of Parentage before or after the birth of a child, and it is filed with the appropriate State agency;
  • By a court order, which may be based on genetic (DNA) test that says there is a 95% or more chance that he is the father.**

However, since there are other ways that paternity may be established, you may want to contact a lawyer for more information. See our Finding a Lawyer page for lawyers in NJ.

*NJSA §9:17-43(a)(1)
**NJSA §9:17-41(b)

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back to topShould I start a court case to ask for supervised visitation?

If you are not comfortable with the abuser being alone with your child, you might be thinking about asking the judge to order that visits with your child be supervised.  If you are already in court because the abuser filed for visitation or custody, you may not have much to lose by asking that the visits be supervised if you can present a valid reason for your request (although this may depend on your situation).

However, if there is no current court case, please get legal advice BEFORE you start a court case to ask for supervised visits.  We strongly recommend that you talk to an attorney who specializes in custody matters to find out what you would have to prove to get the visits supervised and how long supervised visits would last, based on the facts of your case.

In the majority of cases, supervised visits are only a temporary measure.  Although the exact visitation order will vary by state, county, or judge, the judge might order a professional to observe the other parent on a certain amount of visits or the visits might be supervised by a relative for a certain amount of time -- and if there are no obvious problems, the visits may likely become unsupervised.  Oftentimes, at the end of a case, the other parent ends up with more frequent and/ or longer visits than s/he had before you went into court or even some form of custody.

In some cases, to protect your child from immediate danger by the abuser, starting a case to ask for custody and supervised visits is appropriate. To find out what may be best in your situation, please go to NJ Finding a Lawyer to seek out legal advice.

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