Oftentimes, issues of custody and parenting time are the most difficult and sensitive decisions that a judge in the family part must make. It involves deliberation of the ever-elusive “best interests of the child” – a question with no right or wrong answers. While the standard is ostensibly subjective, there are certain guideposts that a judge must look to in order make the difficult determinations that come along with issues of custody. Those factors, as set forth in N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c), include:
- The parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child;
- The parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow visitation that is not based upon substantiated abuse;
- The interactions and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings;
- Any history of domestic violence;
- The safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent;
- The preference of the child if the child is of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to make an intelligent decision;
- The needs of the child;
- The stability of the home environment offered;
- The quality and continuity of the child’s education;
- The fitness of the parents;
- The geographical proximity of the parents’ homes;
- The extent and quality of the time spent with child prior to or subsequent to the separation;
- The parents’ employment responsibilities;
- The age and number of children.
As can be seen in the recent case of Vidal v. Gelak (an unreported/non-precedential decision), when judges do not examine these all-important factors, their decisions face reversal and remand on appeal.