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What is at stake in a child custody hearing

When parents in New Jersey decide to separate, they may have very different plans for their future roles in their children's lives. Nevertheless, parents can come to agreements between themselves about how to share custody time and parenting responsibilities. A child custody order is often issued as part of the overall divorce decree. However, in some cases, people may find themselves in court for a child custody hearing without a divorce proceeding.

Child custody hearings can arise between parents who want to change the terms of their custody arrangements or parents who are separating but were never married. The process usually begins when one of the parents does not wish to share the child and wants to limit the other parent's access or when a parent wants to increase their level of time and responsibility for the child. During a custody hearing, a family court judge will make the determination of how custody will be apportioned between the parents. In some cases, one parent will have full or primary custody. In other cases, both parents will receive joint custody. The latter is increasingly becoming the favored default option, given the strong evidence supporting the involvement of both parents in a child's life.

Decisions may cover both legal as well as physical custody, and parents could have different levels of control regarding each. While physical custody refers to where the child lives, legal custody involves decision-making about the child's education, religion, health and other key issues.

Parents who are having difficulty reaching a solution for child custody can consult with a family law attorney. During a hearing, legal counsel can help a parent bolster their case for custody by presenting evidence and strong arguments.

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