Thursday, November 08, 2012

Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody in New Jersey


The term “joint custody” is often misleading to people, because they think it means that both parents “share” both time with the child and responsibilities of the child equally. However, in New Jersey joint custody is really two separate things- legal custody and physical custody. For example, parents can have both joint physical and legal custody or one parent can have full legal custody and joint physical custody. There can be many variations and combinations of the two types of custody. True shared parenting arrangements are rare. For true shared parenting to work, the parties have to get along and have the ability to communicate on a regular basis with one another. 



Though each parent’s time with the child is important, the time each parent spends with the child must be analyzed in the context of each parent’s responsibility for the custodial functions and duties normally held by the primary caretaker. The primary caretaker often has the greater physical and emotional role in the child’s life.

Legal custody, which is often shared by both parents after a divorce, gives the authority and responsibility for making ‘major’ decisions regarding the child’s welfare. Although having joint legal custody means that parents should be making these decisions together, when parents are at odds, the court will generally defer to the parent with whom the child primarily resides.

Joint physical custody gives responsibility for ‘minor’ day-to-day decisions and the exertion of continuous physical custody by both parents over a child for significant periods of time. Determining physical custody requires an examination of practical considerations, such as financial status of the parties, proximity of the parent’s respective homes, demands of employment, age and number of children of the parties, and, sometimes, the preference of the children.



Your custody arrangement also impacts child support. Your physical custody arrangement affects the amount of child support you pay to the other parent, or the amount of child support you are receiving from the other parent. It is important to make sure you have a court order determining your custody status in order to calculate the proper amount of child support being paid.

If you have questions about your current custody arrangement, contact an attorney.

Written by Allyson Lutley, law clerk at the Law Offices of Linda A. Kerns, LLC.  Edited by Elizabeth A. Bokermann, Esquire, associate attorney.

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