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Ideally, when a couple decides to separate or divorce, they will be able to agree on matters of child custody. In the real world, this doesn’t always happen, however. A few weeks ago, we mentioned that courts make child custody decisions based on the best interests of the child. Each state has its own standards for guiding judges in making this determination. This blog post will describe the factors that New Jersey judges often use to determine the best interests of the child for child custody purposes.

When determining what custody arrangement is in the best interests of the child, courts in the Garden State often will take into account the fitness of the parents and each parent’s employment responsibilities. Courts also will look at the stability of the home environment and the child’s interaction with their parents or siblings. Last but not least, if a child is age 12 or older, the court may take into account the child’s own preferences.

This means that a parent who works late nights may be less likely to get sole custody if their work schedule is perceived as interfering with their parenting responsibilities. This factor alone would not be determinative, however. Rather it would be balanced with other factors to determine the best interests of the child in a holistic manner.

Clients and lawyers will be most aware of these factors if the parties disagree on child custody and each party must make its case to the court for the court to make the decision. Even if the parties do agree on child custody, the court must determine that the agreed-upon plan is in the best interests of the child before signing off on it.