What options are there for legal custody?
If the court gives you sole legal custody, then you are the only parent who is able to make major decisions for your child.
If the court gives you joint legal custody of your child, it means that you share the right to make major decisions about your child with the other parent. This is true even though only one parent has physical custody (your child lives with only one parent). With joint legal custody, both parents have a say in major issues like where your child goes to school, whether s/he will have surgery and what kind of religious training s/he receives. Joint legal custody usually involves the parents talking with each other and making decisions jointly. Since cases of domestic violence involve control, fear and an imbalance of power, joint custody usually is not a good option.
What options are there for physical custody?
In New Jersey, if the court gives you sole physical custody of your child, then your child lives with you and not with the other parent. A parent with sole physical custody is sometimes called a child’s “primary caretaker”. Generally, the primary caretaker is the person who has responsibility for the everyday care of your child and the decisions that affect that care. If the other parent has visitation rights, then s/he will be considered to be your child’s “secondary caretaker”.
Joint physical custody is where your child lives with both you and the other parent, splitting her/his time between both homes. When there is joint physical custody, both parents share the rights of making day-to-day decisions about your child and the responsibilities of caring for your child. Some things that parents with joint physical custody will both be responsible for include: feeding your child, bathing your child, arranging medical care for your child, participating in your child’s education and putting your child to bed at night. Because parents with joint physical custody usually have joint legal custody as well, it also means that both parents share the right to make major decisions about your child.
Here are some examples of joint physical custody:
- Your child spends 3 days a week with you, and 4 days a week with the other parent
- Your child spends one week, month or year with you and then the next week, month or year with the other parent.
If you have physical custody and the other parent has visitation rights (parenting time), then this is not joint physical custody. This is true even if the other parent has a large amount of visitation time.1
1Pascale v. Pascale, 140 N.J. 583; 660 A.2d 485 (Supr Ct 1995).
Is there any difference between custody and visitation?
Yes. Custody can include the right to make decisions about your child (legal custody) and the right to have your child live with you (physical custody). A parent who does not have physical custody may be entitled to visitation. This means that even though your child lives with one parent, your child still gets to spend time with the other parent. In New Jersey, this is sometimes also called “parenting time.”
You may also share legal custody of your child (joint legal custody) with the parent who has visitation. In this case, your child lives with one parent and spends time with the other parent, but both parents have the right to make important decisions about your child.
To read more about “parenting time” and the laws governing it in New Jersey, you can view the New Jersey Judiciary guide online here: http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/family/paretime.pdf