After a divorce, it’s natural to have misgivings about starting a new relationship, let alone getting married. But what if you meet someone who changes your mind? What impact might that have if you’re embroiled in a child custody battle?
A new marriage can have an impact on your pending child custody matter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing. It will really depend on the individual circumstances of your case. Working closely with a Freehold child custody attorney can help ensure you protect yours and your child’s best interests.
Types of Child Custody in New Jersey
Let’s start with a brief recap of the types of child custody arrangements in New Jersey, as explained by the New Jersey Courts. These include:
- Joint legal custody. This is when parents are equitable co-partners with shared parenting time and equal access to information and authority to make decisions for the child.
- Sole legal custody. This is when a child resides with only one parent, who is responsible for making all major decisions.
- Primary residential custody. This is when the child lives with one parent the majority of the time.
- Shared residential custody. This is when the child lives an equal amount of time with each parent.
Courts generally encourage as much involvement as possible from both parents, unless there is a strong reason in the best interest of the child to deviate from that.
A Child’s Best Interests
The primary deciding factor in any New Jersey child custody matter is going to be: What is in the best interests of the child? There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this, and Judges have a great deal of discretion. Their decision will be based on numerous factors, as outlined in N.J.S.A. 9:2-4. These are going to include:
- The fitness of each parent.
- How many children are in the home and their ages.
- The quality and quantity of time the child has spent with each parent, both before and after the split.
- The parent’s home environment stability.
- The location of each parent’s residences.
- Any special needs of the child or parent.
- The willingness and ability of each parent to cooperate, communicate, and reach consensus about matters relating to the child.
- The existing parenting time arrangement.
- The work hours and responsibilities of each parent.
- Where the child’s school is located, relative to where the parents each live.
- The need to protect and promote healthy relationships between the child and their parents as well as their siblings.
- The physical safety and well-being of the child.
As you can see, none of those specifically mentions either parent’s relationship status with third parties. However, depending on the circumstances, third party relationships can play a role in the aforementioned factors. For example, if a parent marries someone who has their own children, that impacts the number of minors in the home. The presence of step-siblings can be weighed as a factor in the child’s interests. If the parent marries someone with a history of criminal convictions, an argument might be made that the child’s physical safety isn’t assured in the presence of that person. Even though they are not a party to the case, the new spouse’s character, employment history, living situation and possibly even their finances could become an issue in a child custody matter.
There can also be situations in which remarriage could strengthen one’s claim to child custody, particularly if the union provides an improved living situation or stability.
Is Remarriage Grounds for Automatic Child Custody Modification?
To change an existing child custody arrangement, the petitioner must cite a material change in circumstance that impacts the best interests of the child. A remarriage could be the basis of such an assertion, but the claim isn’t likely to be successful if that’s all it’s based on.
What must be asserted is that the current custody agreement is no longer in the best interests of the child. Dislike of a co-parent’s new spouse is not a strong enough reason. Potential harm to the child - physical, emotional, psychological, etc. - is what must be established.
What If I’m Moving With My New Spouse?
Relocating can be considered a material change in circumstances in a child custody matter, so it’s important to tread lightly. If you currently have joint custody and plan to make a significant move (more than a few highway exits), you will need to consult with a family law attorney before making the move to ensure you don’t run afoul of the existing agreement. Custodial parents need either the permission of the other parent or the Court to make a long-distance move with a child. Fail to do so and you risk losing custody.
Finally, if you aren’t marrying but still planning to move in with a third party, this could still impact your child custody case (and possibly claims for alimony). Proceed with caution and consult a lawyer first.
If you are planning to get remarried and are concerned about how it will impact child custody, consult with an experienced family law attorney for legal advice specific to your situation.
Contact our Freehold Child Custody Attorneys today at (732) 810-0034 to schedule an appointment.