When the parties cannot reach an agreement regarding the custody of children, the court determines the custodial arrangement that is in the best interests of the children. To make its determination of custody and visitation, the court hears testimony from both parties, any experts they want to present, and any other parties who have direct knowledge of the ability of each spouse to parent the children. The court may also interview the children themselves or appoint a guardian to represent their interests. The court considers the following factors in awarding custody:
- the parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate on matters relating to the children;
- the parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow visitation, unless such unwillingness was based on substantiated abuse;
- the interaction and relationship of the children with their parents and siblings;
- any history of domestic violence;
- the safety of the children and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other;
- the preference of the children when they are of sufficient age and capacity to form an intelligent decision;
- the needs of the children;
- the stability of the home environment offered;
- the quality and continuity of the children’s education;
- the fitness of the parents;
- the geographical proximity of the parents’ homes;
- the extent and quality of the time spent with the children prior to and subsequent to the separation;
- the parents’ employment responsibilities;
- the ages and number of the children.
David Wildstein, Esq. has been practicing matrimonial law for more than 30 years. He heads the 12-member family-law department of Wilentz Goldman Spitzer P.A. in Woodbridge, NJ and New York City. He has been listed in Best Lawyers in America.