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New Jersey Child Custody Lawyer

New Jersey courts, first and foremost, consider the best interests of a child when awarding custody whether the parents are married, going through a divorce, or are were never married. There is a presumption that both biological parents will retain legal custody. 

Legal custody provides each parent with the right to make parenting decisions about the child’s education, medical care, and other major decisions. There is also a presumption that it is best for both parents to share responsibility for the child’s day-to-day care and well-being. 

That is why, when joint residential custody is agreed upon or ordered by the court, it is often 50/50. Despite common misconceptions, mothers are not always awarded legal custody, nor is the parent with the highest income.

Every child custody situation is unique. Each Family Part judge may give different weight to the factors used in deciding custody matters, including but not limited to the age of the child, the child’s physical and psychological needs, and the ability of each parent to meet those needs. 

Cowen & Jacobs’ child custody attorneys have over 35 years of experience in Bergen County Superior Court and in other New Jersey counties. 

Armed with our depth of knowledge of the law and the practical workings of how the legal system functions, we are able to successfully fight on your behalf to ensure, whether by settlement or as ordered by the court, that the custody and parenting arrangement that you have determined is in your child’s best interests prevails. 

To speak with our New Jersey child custody lawyers, contact Cowen & Jacobs right away to discover how we can best help you advocate for your child’s best interests.

How Can A New Jersey Child Custody Lawyer Help?

As your lawyers, we will advise you regarding what factors a Family Part judge will take into consideration and how best to present your side of the issues. Family Part judges are charged with the ultimate responsibility to determine what custody and parenting time arrangements are in a child’s best interests. 

When necessary, we will ask the court to order a “best interests” evaluation of a child by a forensic psychologist.  The court may also appoint a guardian ad litem who will conduct an investigation and provide a recommendation to the judge handling your case. Our family law attorneys excel at assisting you in settling legal custody and parenting disputes. 

Settlement is favored by the Family Part judges due to the damaging effects that protracted litigation inflicts on children. However, if necessary, we have the skill and expertise to litigate on your behalf at trial or defend your interests on appeal. 

Our child custody attorneys work with you to develop the evidence needed to support your case and show that your custody arrangement is in the best interest of your child or children.

Our Family Law Attorneys Excel at Resolving Complex Custody Disputes

Cowen & Jacobs is a Hackensack, New Jersey law firm focused on protecting the rights and interests of our clients, including those clients with complex child custody and parenting time issues.

Our experienced New Jersey child custody lawyers have successfully helped parents negotiate, or if necessary, litigate, or appeal a number of child custody and parenting issues: 

  •  Parents that travel for work
  •  Parents who work overseas, or are on active military duty
  •  Parents who have substance abuse problems
  •  Parents with  a criminal history
  •  Parents who live in different states and determining whether New Jersey or another state has jurisdiction to rule on child custody and parenting time issues pursuant to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.
  • Parents who want to remove their child from the United States
  • Parents who seek the return of their child after the other parent has unlawfully removed the child from the jurisdiction of the State of New Jersey to another state or to another country.


We have also incorporated third parties into custody arrangements such as grandparents and step-parents, when dictated by the best interest of the child. Our child custody  attorneys will work tirelessly with you to protect parental rights and get the best child custody and parenting time arrangement for your family.

Understanding New Jersey Custody Law

There are many terms to be familiar with when you are thinking about what sort of child custody arrangement would be best for your family and engaging in custody negotiations. Here are some important definitions to know:

Legal Custody

Whether married or unmarried, both biological parents share legal custody of their children.  Legal custody is the right and responsibility to make major decisions for them such as schooling and medical care. 

Most divorced parents or separated unmarried parents continue to share legal custody of their children and collaborate on their children’s upbringing. Respectful and consistent co-parenting, free from conflict,  is always considered to be in a child’s best interests.

Physical Custody

Unless the parties agree to 50/50 shared physical custody or it is ordered by the court, one parent will be considered the Parent of Primary Residence (PPR), meaning that the children reside with that parent most of the time. The other parent will be the Parent of Alternate Residence (PAR).  

The number of overnights in the parenting plan will be a factor in determining the amount of child support payable by the PAR to the PPR.  Whether a parent is the PPR or PAR, they continue to have equally shared legal custody, also referred to as joint legal custody.

Sole Custody

Sole legal custody and sole physical custody of children are awarded to a parent in the relatively rare cases where the other parent is deemed by the court to be unfit, or is unable to or refuses to co-parent in the child’s best interests.

Parenting Plan

It is always considered to be in the child’s best interests to have a close and loving relationship with each parent. Therefore, regardless of which parent is the PPR or even if one parent has sole legal and physical custody, there must be an opportunity in most instances, for the child to spend time alone with each parent. 

A parenting plan can be very detailed in order to avoid any ambiguity and post-judgment conflict.  General speaking the parenting plan will set forth at least the following terms including but not limited to:

  • Ordinary parenting time:  the number of days and overnights the child spends with each parent on a weekly basis.
  • Holidays and special days: with which parent will the child spend all or part of  Halloween and Thanksgiving, or religious holidays (for example Christmas or Rosh Hashanah, etc ), or legal holidays such as July 4th and Labor Day. All holidays usually alternate on a yearly basis. Mother’s Day is always with the mother and Father’s Day with the father.  Holidays and special days pre-empt ordinary parenting time and vacation time.
  • Vacation time with the child:  Both parents are encouraged to spend some vacation time with the child.

FAQs about Child Custody in New Jersey

How is Child Custody Determined in New Jersey?

A family law judge will determine what child custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child, considering a number of factors including:
  • What arrangement safeguards the child’s physical health and safety;
  • What arrangement fulfills a child’s emotional needs;
  • Each parent’s parenting skills and willingness and ability to parent;
  • Practical concerns, such as whose residence is appropriate for the child, or where the child goes to school.

How to File for Child Custody in New Jersey?

Child custody is determined as part of divorce proceedings in New Jersey. It is first raised in the divorce complaint and the defendant’s answer and counterclaim. A different form of complaint is filed in the Family Part if the parents are unmarried.

If the parties agree on which parent will be the Parent of Primary Residence (PPR) negotiate and a parenting plan, it will be incorporated into a Judgment of Divorce, or in a Consent Order entered into by unmarried parents.

A Family Part judge will neither approve or disapprove a settlement. Absent a settlement, the Family Part judge will, in the child’s best interests, determine which parent is the PPR and establish a parenting plan.

Do You Need a Lawyer to File for Child Custody in New Jersey?

No, however, you are much more likely to get the result you want with an experienced child custody attorney by your side during settlement negotiations or at trial. Child custody cases are usually quite nuanced.

You want to be sure to partner with an experienced child custody attorney who can help you persuasively present the facts in your case and convincingly apply those facts to the statutes and case law governing child custody and parenting issues.

Do You Pay Child Support with Joint Custody in New Jersey?

If you have joint legal custody but the other parent has primary physical custody of your children, then you will probably pay child support.

Even if you share joint legal and physical custody of your children, you may have to pay child support depending on the incomes of each parent. In the event that you have sole legal and residential custody, the other parent will likely be required to pay child support to you.

Each case is different. Contact our New Jersey child custody attorneys to discuss the particulars of your case.

What Rights do Fathers Have in New Jersey?

The law has evolved in New Jersey so that in most instances fathers have the same rights as mothers in New Jersey. New Jersey law also reflects that societal changes such as the need for mothers to work full-time outside of the home, and the desire of many men to be hands-on dads.

Therefore, each individual child’s best interests in light of the age and needs of the child is what governs whether the father or the mother is designated as the Parent of Primary Residence (PPR). The attorneys of Cowen & Jacobs have successfully represented many fathers who have become the PPR and at times awarded sole legal and physical custody if the situation warrants it.

How Can I Get Emergency Custody of a Child in New Jersey?

If you feel that your child is at risk for immediate and irreparable harm, you can file a request with the Family Part Judge to intervene and place the child with you or someone else until it is safe or the underlying issues can be heard and resolved by a judge.

This request for what is considered an extraordinary remedy is called an Order to Show Cause or an Application for Emergent Relief. An emergency custody order is considered an extraordinary remedy that is rarely issued.

A judge will only grant an emergency custody order if there is a finding that there will be immediate and irreparable harm to the child, such as when the child is being abused, or when the custodial parent is abusing alcohol or drugs, has been imprisoned, or is about the child out of the jurisdiction without the other parent’s consent.

Under What Circumstances May My Parental Rights Be Terminated?

Your right to parent your child is guaranteed by the United States Constitution. You may voluntarily terminate your parental rights to custody and parenting time by consenting to the adoption of your child by a family member, a step-parent or by total strangers.

Your parental rights may be terminated without your consent by the Division of Child Protection & Permanency (DCP&P; formerly known as DYFS) under certain extraordinary circumstances. Before a Family Part judge terminates parental rights in a case brought by DCP&P, they must file a complaint and present evidence at a trial that a parent is unfit.

Since the right to parent is a constitutional right, a parent who is deemed indigent has the right to an attorney paid for by the state. The right to an attorney also applies to cases in which the biological parent objects to the adoption which does not involve DCP&P.

This is called a private contested adoption. The factors that a Family Court judge must consider in a private contested adoption vary from a DCP&P matter. Once an adoption takes place, your right to parent is terminated forever.

Cowen & Jacobs has over 35 years of experience in representing parents in types of DCP&P matters, in representing individuals who want to adopt a child either from the state or privately, and in representing parents who are contesting the adoption of their child.

Protect Your Parental Rights & Let Our Experienced New Jersey Child Custody Attorneys Help 

Our child custody lawyers have over 35 years of experience helping parents negotiate and craft child custody arrangements that serve the best interests of their children. 

If you need help negotiating, litigating, or modifying your child custody arrangement, contact our child custody lawyers. Put an experienced and dedicated attorney to work for your family.

Contact Our Legal Team Today

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Are you ready to get started on your case with a consultation? With over 35 years of experience, our child custody attorneys are ready to fight for you. Reach out to us today to see what Cowen & Jacobs can do to assist you in your journey through the legal system, which can be very stressful, particularly with regard to child related issues.

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