Custody Orders in NJ: Types, Modification, Enforcement

A court order is a ruling made by a judge. In child custody cases, orders legally mandate the time each parent gets to spend with their child and who can make decisions for the child, among other conditions.

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Emergency orders

Emergency orders provide immediate court decisions when a child is experiencing or at risk of abuse, neglect or parental kidnapping. These orders can last as little as a few days and never past the issuance of a final order, making them a subset of temporary orders.

In some cases, if you have a restraining order against the other parent, you're automatically granted emergency custody.

Most commonly, you must file an Emergent Application/Order to Show Cause to explain the nature of the emergency facing the child and request a hearing. You can do this when you file your initial complaint or as problems arise.

If you're concerned the other parent will cause irreparable harm to the child (e.g., remove them from the state), you don't have to notify them until after you receive an emergency order. However, the judge can overrule your decision if he or she believes the other parent should attend the hearing.

The emergency hearing happens the same day or a few days after you file. At the hearing, the judge listens both to the other parent (if the other parent attends) and to you.

If the judge determines your situation doesn't necessitate emergency orders, you'll go through the regular court process.

If the judge grants your emergency request, you'll have a more thorough hearing 10 days later. At this hearing, the judge can terminate the orders, extend them or enter a final judgment. The judge may ask you and the other parent to submit written statements so the hearing can occur without oral testimony.

Temporary orders

Temporary orders, also called pendente lite orders, provide arrangements for custody, parenting time and child support until there's a final order in the case. You won't get temporary orders unless a parent requests them.

You and the other parent can ask the court to issue temporary orders you agree on, or either parent can ask the court to establish temporary orders. In either case, there will be a hearing to discuss the temporary arrangement.

When making or approving temporary orders, the court considers:

  • The best interests of the child
  • Which parent has spent more time with the child
  • Each parent's current living situation, mental health, etc.
  • Each parent's ability to financially provide for the child

The court usually grants temporary sole physical custody to one parent and visitation to the other.

The court uses the guideline child support formula to calculate how much temporary child support will be.

The judge will consider how temporary orders worked when making the final orders. Typically, if parents proposed the arrangement and it worked well, the judge will not change it.

Final orders

A final order is a court ruling that lasts until:

  • The child involved turns 18.
  • The child is emancipated (legally declared independent of their parents).
  • The parents reach an alternate agreement.

Final orders specify legal and physical custody, a parenting time schedule and child support (if parents apply for support when opening their case).

There are two ways to get final orders.

The first method — called settling — requires you and the other parent to reach an agreement, either on your own or through an alternative dispute resolution method. Then you file it with the court for approval. Settling keeps parents in charge of their familial situation and helps foster a healthy co-parenting relationship that benefits the child.

Your other option is to let the judge decide final orders based on the evidence presented at trial. If you believe there was a legal error, you have 45 days to file an appeal.

If you settle, your parenting plan becomes the final order. If you go to trial, you won't have a parenting plan, unless your situation requires special conditions like supervised exchanges or supervised visitation.

Modifying a final order

You can modify a final order at any reasonable time. If you and the other parent agree on a modification, submit it to the court for approval. Otherwise, ask the court to decide on a change for you.

Either way, you'll have a hearing. The judge will consider if there's been a substantial change in circumstances affecting the child, such as:

  • A parental move
  • A negative turn in academic performance by the child
  • Breaches of the court order
  • New or increasing substance abuse issues

Even if such circumstances exist, there's no guarantee the court will approve a modification.

Enforcing a final order

You should follow custody orders to the letter, except when you and the other parent agree on small deviations (e.g., letting a parent pick up the child late with notice). Common order violations include missing exchanges and refusing to allow the other parent to see the child.

If you file a complaint to enforce an order, you and the other parent will have a hearing in front of the judge. He or she will determine if and how to penalize the other parent. For example, the court could fine the violating parent or adjust the parenting time schedule.

Following court orders correctly

When a court issues orders, you must follow them. If you don't, you can be brought back to court, fined and more.

But orders are complicated, especially for parenting time. When exactly does "Week 2" begin this month? Which day marks the middle of summer break?

Use Custody X Change to plug your order into a calendar you can edit, share and print so you'll never have to wonder whether you're following the order correctly.

With the Custody X Change online app, you can combine schedules for the school year, summer break and holidays into one calendar.

You can even track how well court orders are being followed with our parenting time tracker and parenting journal.

Custody X Change has all the tools you need to set your new parenting arrangement up for success.

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