Even the most amicable of divorces can quickly turn acrimonious when addressing the issue of parenting time and access (formerly referred to as child visitation.) Parents who have grown accustomed to enjoying unlimited time with their children must come to grips with a new schedule that might allow them just a handful of visits each month. For others with concerns about an ex-spouse’s sobriety or ability to parent effectively, it may be equally difficult to part with a child – no matter how infrequently visits take place. When parties are at an impasse, a Monmouth County parenting time lawyer can help.
Regular child visitation is strongly encouraged and strictly enforced by New Jersey courts, which have demonstrated a preference for parenting time agreements that require a sharing of parental responsibilities. Additionally, New Jersey legislators have passed laws ensuring that non-custodial parents – absent an allegation of unfitness – will still enjoy frequent access to their children. The approach reflects evidence that children of divorce fare better when their relationship with both parents is minimally disrupted.
As when deciding the issue of child custody, a judge weighing a non-custodial parent’s visitation request must consider the best interests of the child. The standard generally takes into account the preexisting parent-child relationship, the ability of parents to cooperate with one another, whether either parent has ever been accused of domestic violence or child abuse, the preference of the child and the custodial parent’s geographic proximity to the non-custodial parent. Other factors to be considered include a history by either parent of withholding access to their shared children, the stability of the home environment, and the ages and number of siblings.
Historically a non-custodial parent might be granted visitation every other weekend with an additional mid-week visit every other week, but New Jersey courts are showing a willingness to revisit this standard arrangement. Parents who enter into a shared parenting plan agree to evenly split custody and visitation. Additionally all holidays, birthdays and vacations are usually alternated equally but unique requests – such as religious holidays which are only celebrated by one parent – can be established from the onset with a well-drafted visitation schedule or parenting agreement.
Occasionally a parenting time schedule must be modified. A parent who disregards drop-off and pick-up times, who keeps a child longer than they are permitted or who is unavailable for a predetermined visit can be held accountable. Regardless of whether a visitation schedule was initially drafted and agreed upon by both parents, the agreement is converted to a court order once a divorce is finalized. A parent who believes that a visitation schedule is not being honored can seek monetary sanctions from a judge, as well as the elimination of parenting time for their former spouse when a violation has been particularly egregious.
Divorce is difficult for everyone, but it has the hardest impact on children. An estranged couple should – whenever possible – draft a parenting time agreement that both sides find satisfactory. When such an agreement cannot be reached, our Monmouth County parenting time lawyers at Fox & Melofchik, L.L.C. can help. We provide mediation services for divorcing couples but can and will take your case to court if it becomes necessary. Contact us online or call (732) 493-9400 to schedule a free consultation at our Ocean Township, New Jersey offices, where we proudly serve clients in Monmouth County, Middlesex County, Mercer County and the New Jersey towns of Colts Neck, Rumson, Deal, Monmouth Beach, Little Silver and Holmdel.