Updated August 15, 2023
A New Jersey custody (parenting) plan is a comprehensive agreement that outlines the terms of custody between two parents. This document not only determines each parent’s decision-making authority and rights regarding the child but also outlines plans for the child’s education, healthcare, living arrangements, visitation, and more.
Table of Contents
- Child Custody Factors
- How to File for Custody in New Jersey
- Custody Laws
How to File for Custody in New Jersey
1. Agree on a Parenting Plan
For parents who are filing for divorce or are already divorced, custody is handled as part of the divorce proceedings, also known as “dissolution.” Before initiating the case, it is advisable for the parents to discuss and reach an agreement on the preferred custody arrangement.
According to N.J. Stat. § 9:2-4, the court will approve any custody arrangement agreed upon by both parents unless it goes against the best interests of the child. If the parents cannot reach an agreement, the court may require each parent to submit a custody (parenting) plan for consideration.
2. Calculate Child Support
To estimate the potential amount of child support that may be ordered by the court, use the New Jersey Child Support Calculator. The court determines child support based on the gross weekly income of both the custodial and non-custodial parent, the number of children involved, and the percentage of parenting time allocated to each parent.
3. Complete and File Required Forms
Prepare a parenting plan and complete the Complaint for Divorce along with any other necessary paperwork. If the parents are not married or have not yet filed for divorce, they must complete the non-dissolution application packet for custody, child/spousal support, or parenting time.
File the completed forms with the courthouse in the county where the child resides. You can submit them in person, via mail, or electronically using the Judiciary Electronic Document Submission (JEDS). Note that the filing fee is $300 for divorce cases and $6 for non-dissolution custody cases.
4. Serve Complaint
Within 30 days of filing the paperwork, serve the Summons, Complaint, and any other required documents on the other parent. This can be accomplished by requesting assistance from the Sheriff’s Office or hiring a process server. Once the papers have been served, the court must be provided with proof of service.
5. Attend Mediation or Hearing
For divorce cases, mediation may be necessary to reach a settlement. If an agreement cannot be reached after attending the Matrimonial Early Settlement Panel (MESP), you may work with a court-approved mediator or a private mediator. Once a settlement is reached and reported to the judge, it will be considered for approval.
For non-divorce custody cases, a hearing will be held for the judge to assess the circumstances surrounding the case and determine what is in the best interest of the child. Both parents are required to appear in court.
- Child’s preference: The court will take into account the child’s preference for custody “when of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision” (N.J. Stat. § 9:2-4(c)).
- Parental access to records: N.J. Stat. § 9:2-4.2
- Parental rights: N.J. Stat. § 9:2-4
- Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act: N.J. Stat. § 2A:34-53
- Visitation rights of grandparents and siblings: N.J. Stat. § 9:2-7.1
Article written by Thumbuddy To Love.