Custody in New Jersey

The Difference Between Legal and Residential Custody

Custody involves the parental rights to children.  In New Jersey, there are two categories of custody: legal and residential.

Legal Custody

Legal Custody can be described as the ability to make major life decisions on a child’s behalf.  Examples of legal custody decisions include which school the child attends, whether or not to have a medical procedure, what prescriptions, if any, a child should be receiving, or what religion a child should be learning.

Parents are given, by default, joint legal custody over the child.  Legal custody is hardly ever taken away from a parent. The ability to be involved in a child’s life through decision making is deemed essential in New Jersey. Even if parents do not agree, and one parent is given the ability to make medical or educational decisions on their own without the consent of the other parent, the other parent has the right to be informed about each one of the major decisions in a child’s life.

Residential Custody

Residential custody, or physical custody, is simply which parent has the child at the given time.  Whichever parent has the child in their possession is required to partake in day-to-day decision making for that child. Duties of a residential custodian include feeding, clothing, homework, and hygiene. These tasks do not require the consent of the other party, and these duties fall on the parent who has the child at a given time.

If parents share residential custody, this means that each parent has parenting time, in some fashion.  During a parent’s parenting time, they are responsible for those day-to-day tasks on behalf of the children.

Confusion of Joint and Sole Custody

Parents, lawyers and even Judges confuse the terms legal and residential custody when labeling a parent with “joint” or “sole” custody. When the term “sole” custody is applied, usually this means that one parent has 100% of the parenting time.  However, unless the other parent’s rights were terminated by the process of adoption or abuse and neglect proceedings, that parent still has legal custody over the child.

On the other hand, when a parent has joint custody, this usually means that parents share parenting time.  Joint custody does not necessarily mean that both parents have equal parenting time, but only that each parent has some parenting time.

Rather than use of the terms joint and sole custody, it is a better approach to break down custody in terms of legal and residential custody, providing a clear picture of the parenting situation in each child’s life.

Parent of Primary Residence/Alternate Residence

Legal and residential custody should not be confused with the terms Parent of Primary Residence (PPR) and Parent of Alternate Residence (PAR).  PPR and PAR are terms that are used for child support purposes ONLY. PPR is designated to the parent who enjoys over 50% of the parenting time and PAR is the parent who has less than 50% of the total parenting time. These designations are used for calculating child support through the child support guidelines.  Designation of PPR or PAR has absolutely no impact on legal and/or residential custody.

At Hark & Hark, we help clients with divorce, custody, domestic violence, child support, alimony issues and more.  Custody battles are high stakes and emotionally draining.  If you find yourself in a custody battle, or have questions about residential or physical custody rights, contact us immediately.

We are reducing fees and working with clients to come up with manageable payment plans. Initial consultation is always free and we are available remotely. We represent clients in all towns in New Jersey including Bass River, Beverly, Bordentown City, Bordentown Township, Burlington City, Burlington Township, Chesterfield, Cinnaminson, Delanco, Delran, Eastampton, Edgewater Park, Evesham, Fieldsboro, Florence, Hainesport, Lumberton, Mansfield, Maple Shade, Medford Lakes, Medford Township, Moorestown, Mount Holly, Mount Laurel, New Hanover, North Hanover, Palmyra, Pemberton Borough, Pemberton Township, Riverside, Riverton, Shamong, Southampton, Springfield, Tabernacle, Washington Township, Westampton, Willingboro, Woodland Township, and Wrightstown.