In recent years, shared custody has become more prevalent among divorced or separated parents. New Jersey’s child custody laws are gender neutral and more fathers are taking active roles in their children’s day to day lives making shared custody more common.

In New Jersey, there are two components to the custody of a child.  The first component is legal custody which is the right to make major decisions concerning the health, education and welfare of the children.  The second component is physical custody which means where is your child and when.

It is common for couples to opt for joint legal and physical custody where each parent shares the legal and custody decisions relative to their children.

In shared custody cases, the parents share both legal custody, i.e. they have joint decision-making responsibilities for their children over issues such as their children’s health, education, welfare and religion, and physical custody, i.e. each parent has a substantial amount of parenting time with the children.

To have shared custody under New Jersey law, a three factor test must be met:

(1) the parties must have a written parenting plan that specifies parenting times and the responsibilities for each parent;
(2) each parent must have the substantial equivalent of at least two overnights, on average, per week with the children not including holidays and vacations; and
(3)  the parents must be able to communicate and make important decisions concerning their children together.

The last factor, the ability to work together in the best interests of the children is the most important.

New Jersey also has what is known as joint custody.  Joint custody is like shared custody but with near equal parenting time for both parents and with each parent having equal responsibility for all decisions concerning their children.  With parents taking more active roles in their children’s lives, joint custody is becoming more prevalent.

Under joint custody, parents typically work out a co-parenting plan based upon work schedules, housing arrangements and the needs of their children to try and reach a near equal amount of time with each parent.  An experienced New Jersey child custody attorney can provide assistance in working out a co-parenting plan.

The advantage of joint custody is that your children have continuing contact and involvement with both parents.  The disadvantages are the expense of maintaining two homes; additional transportation needs in driving the children from house to house, and that disagreements between the parents can negatively affect the kids.  However, joint custody can be a good solution when parents approach it from the view of what is in their children’s best interest.