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Child custody is among the most contentious issues in many divorce and separation proceedings. People often have strong, passionate feelings about where their children should live, what school they should go to, and how they should be raised. Like other aspects of divorce or separation, child custody decisions are governed by legal standards. Decisions are either made by the parties and approved by the court or made by the court if the parties cannot agree.

In order for a child custody arrangement to be approved in New Jersey, the court must find that it is in the best interests of the child. This is true not only for decisions made by the court, but also for decisions agreed to by the parties and approved by the court.

There are actually two kinds of child custody: physical custody and legal custody. A child lives with the parent with physical custody. If one parent has physical custody, usually the other parent will have visitation rights to the child. Legal custody, on the other hand, means the right to make major decisions on the child’s behalf. Usually, parents will be given joint legal custody, meaning that both have decision-making authority. If a parent is deemed unfit, the other may be given sole legal custody. This arrangement is uncommon.

Parents frequently find it helpful to devise a parenting plan, and sometimes judges will require one to be drawn up. A parenting plan often include a daily schedule of which parent the child will be with. It may also include the responsibilities of each parent; the division of physical and legal custody; the amount of child support to be paid; and the extent of the rights of other parties, including stepparents and relatives.