Child custody hearings can be complex and confusing. When the court steps in to resolve a dispute regarding custody or visitation, parents must often submit a plethora of documentation as well as evidence supporting their arguments. Because of how difficult the process can be, you should always seek the help of an experienced child custody lawyer right away if you are facing a custody dispute.
Bhatt Law Group has represented people throughout New Jersey who are dealing with child custody issues since 2006. Call us at (201) 798-8000 for a free consultation so we can discuss the legal process with you and help ensure a favorable outcome in your case.
Types of Child Custody Cases in New Jersey
When a child custody or parenting time complaint is filed, the clerk will docket the case as either an “FD” or an “FM” case. FD cases are called non-dissolution cases because they involve parents who are not legally married or adults who are filing for court action on behalf of minor children. These cases may also involve parents who want to address custody issues outside of a divorce. However, if the custody issue arises as part of a divorce, then the court will designate it as an FM case. The court’s decision on custody would then be issued as part of divorce proceedings.
Initial Meeting with Court Officer
For FD cases, the court will first schedule a meeting between the filing party and a court officer from the FD Unit of the Family Division. This court officer is not a judge, but a professional who is authorized by the court to obtain official testimony and make recommendations to the court. If a resolution is attained and both parents agree, the court officer will report the results to the judge. However, if no resolution is attained with a court officer, then the case will be referred to a judge.
Custody and Parenting Time Mediation
When a case is referred to a judge, the judge may decide that the issues raised are appropriate for mediation. Mediation is a process where an impartial third party facilitates agreements between parents and other relatives with regard to custody and parenting time disputes. This process gives parties the opportunity to decide and develop a custody arrangement or parenting plan that everyone agrees on.
If an agreement is reached, the mediator will prepare a consent order outlining the terms of the agreement and will present that order for the judge’s signature. If there is no agreement reached, then the matter will be rescheduled with the judge for a hearing at a later time.
Proposed Custody Arrangement or Parenting Plan
Once a hearing is scheduled, the parties must then submit a proposed custody and parenting time/visitation plan to the court. This proposal should describe the arrangement that a party is requesting and explain why it is in the best interest of the child. You should work with an experienced family law attorney in preparing this proposal to ensure that it is complete.
During the custody hearing, the judge will hear arguments from both sides regarding the issues. The judge will likely ask direct questions of both parties and review evidence. The judge must base decisions on the best interest of the child.
If either parent is accused of being “unfit” to care for the child, then the judge may order an investigation prior to ruling. During this investigation the Family Division will look at the character and fitness of the parties, the family’s economic condition, the financial abilities of both parents, the parties’ homes, and any relevant criminal records.
A judge may reach a decision during the initial hearing or may schedule subsequent hearings as necessary before issuing an order. Custody hearings can be extremely complex and involve many people and large amounts of evidence. It is beneficial to have legal assistance at every step of the process.
Contact a New Jersey Custody Lawyer Today
Bhatt Law Group has decades of combined experience in family law matters and can provide you with assistance on your child custody dispute. We will take the time to investigate the circumstances of your case, gather evidence, represent your interests during any investigation and mediation sessions, and advocate for you and your family during the custody hearing. Do not hesitate to call us at (201) 798-8000 for a free initial consultation.