"My partner and I have two children but were never married. How is custody and child support decided when dealing with children of unmarried wed parents?"
Custody and child support are not determined any differently between unmarried parents who never wed than it is between married/divorcing parents who did. Custody (decision-making for the children and the time the children spend with each parent) is determined by what the judge (in cases that are tried) finds to be in the children's best interest, i.e., which parent can provide a loving, nurturing, and supportive life for the children, providing appropriate medical and dental care, educational support, and support for the children's extracurricular life (e.g., sports, music, dance, theater, etc.). That usually is based on history, i.e., who in the past functioned in the more active and supportive parental role and upon the work schedules and commitments of the parents and the schedules of the children. Of course, there are differences in how the factors for determining custody apply to children of different ages. . Custody is It is not based on who earns more money, but can be based in part on who is more available to care for the children when they are not in school.
Child support is based predominantly on the incomes of the parents, the number and ages of the children, and the amount of time the children will be spending with each parent based on the parenting plan to which the parties have agreed (i.e., their consensual custody arrangement) or the parenting plan entered by a judge following trial. Most states require parents to try to agree on a parenting plan on their own; if that is not possible, then the parents usually attempt to do so with the assistance of a mediator. Only if these attempts at resolution fail does the judge step in, and then usually only after a custody evaluation has been conducted by a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, family therapist or other social science trained person.
Child support is based predominantly on the incomes of the parents, the number and ages of the children, and the amount of time the children will be spending with each parent based on the parenting plan to which the parties have agreed (i.e., their consensual custody arrangement) or the parenting plan ordered by a judge). States have adopted child support guidelines for the calculation of child support in order to make child support orders more uniform. New Jersey's child support guidelines apply to families who have joint net (after-tax) incomes that do not exceed $187,200.00 per year ($3,600 per week after taxes).
Gary Borger, family lawyer and mediator, is a partner in the firm of Borger Jones Matez & Keeley-Cain, P.A. located in Cherry Hill, NJ.