When intimate relationships go awry, sometimes the only positives left are the children. This raises the question of custody when a couple decides to split up. New Jersey encourages parents to agree to custody and visitation (parenting time) terms on their own. However, that's not always possible and that's when the court steps in. Although there are similarities, each state has a different process for filing for custody. Part of the process includes the completion of specific forms.
New Jersey Child Custody Forms and Process Overview
Nothing can replace the insight of an attorney when it comes to statutory interpretation. However, it's very beneficial to become familiar with the law by following a plain language guide. The chart below provides a synopsis of the laws that comprise New Jersey's child custody process.
Statutes and Forms
Filing Your Custody Case
If there's already a custody order in place, you must file a motion for a modification of child custody. If there's no existing order, you're free to begin custody proceedings. At the end of the proceedings, the court will make an initial determination of custody.
The Custody Complaint
The process begins with the drafting of the complaint which must be filed in the superior court of the county where the child resides (if your child doesn't live with you). In addition to specific information about the parties' and your child's demographics, other information is included in the complaint/motion for custody:
- The type of custody that you're seeking
- A parenting plan
- Any genuine and substantial issues regarding custody or parenting time
Types of Custody
In New Jersey, there are two types of custody that you will reference in the complaint: legal custody and physical/ residential custody. Legal custody grants decision-making rights to the parent and physical custody determines which parent the child will live with. You may file for both.
Custody is further divided into sole custody (means only one parent has custody) and joint custody which means that the parents share custody.
Parents must come up with a parenting plan which they submit to the court for approval. The agreement details plans concerning the child's custody and visitation. It should be as specific as possible and reflect stability for your child.
This is the process that tries to reach agreement between the parties before trial. The exception: cases in which a final restraining order has been entered as a result of domestic violence.
When parents can't resolve the custody issues through mediation, then the law permits the court to conduct investigations before any custody award is made to either parent. The investigation will include a review of the following:
- The parents' character/fitness;
- The family's economic condition;
- The parties' homes and household members; and
- Criminal record checks for both parents.
Each side will present evidence in the case. The court makes custody decisions based on the "best interests of the child" factors.
Once the initial custody determination has been made, either parent may move to change the arrangement only when there's been a substantial change in circumstances that impacts the child's welfare.
Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
New Jersey Child Custody Forms and Process: Related Resources
Discuss New Jersey's Child Custody Process with an Attorney
If you're in a custody dispute, New Jersey's child custody process might feel intimidating and confusing. Fortunately, you can discuss your case with an experienced lawyer. Get help completing forms and parenting plans from a New Jersey child custody attorney located near you.