Potential new clients often tell me that they want “full custody” of their child/ren when they are facing a possible divorce/separation. When I delve a little further into what these clients are actually looking for, i.e. what they believe “full custody” means, I get a wide array of different answers. My simple answer to their request/question is that we do not have the concept of “full custody” in New Jersey. Instead, New Jersey courts recognize two categories of custody; joint legal custody or sole legal custody. Most individuals believe that sole custody means that the other parent never has parenting time (also called visitation) with their child—this is not accurate. On the other hand, it is also widely believed that joint legal custody means that both parents equally divide parenting time with their children. This too is not accurate. I thought it would be helpful to address both misconceptions in a (hopefully) easy article as follows:
Joint legal custody does not speak to the amount of time that you physically enjoy with your child/ren. It does not mean that the parents equally share time with their child—although the name (joint) may be misleading! Instead, joint legal custody means that you and the other parent of your child must make all major decisions with respect to your child together, i.e. jointly. Specifically, it means that any decisions that may affect your child’s education, health, religious upbringing and the like must be discussed and agreed upon by both parents. If you and the other parent are unable to reach an agreement with respect to these major decisions, then you may apply to the Superior Court of New Jersey, by way of a Motion, to have a Judge assist you with resolving the dispute.
The concept of joint legal custody also means that you and the other parent have equal access to your child’s records. Specifically, you would both have equal access to your child’s school, medical, and religious records.
Sole legal custody is the opposite. If you are granted sole legal custody of your child, then you are the sole (only) decision maker. You do not need to “check in” with the other parent on major decisions which may affect your child. Instead, the decision is yours—and yours alone. As you can appreciate, it is difficult to obtain this designation from the Court—since it is such drastic relief, i.e. if you are granted sole legal custody then the other parent is not permitted to be involved in major decisions that may affect their child’s life.
In sum, the custody designation (whether joint or sole) does not dictate/determine how much time you actually spend with your child. Said another way, you may be awarded joint legal custody of your child, but only be permitted to enjoy seven (7) days each month with them depending on a variety of factors. Or, you may be awarded sole legal custody of your child and the other parent may be awarded significant parenting time with your child. The title (joint or sole) does not dictate the amount of actual time that you spend with your child/ren.
The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.
Shari B. Veisblatt represents clients in all aspects and stages of matrimonial litigation, including divorce and separation, custody, child and spousal support, equitable distribution and alimony and domestic abuse. She works out of the firm’s Cherry Hill, NJ office and can be reached at 856-857-1431 or at Shari.Veisblatt@obermayer.com.