Special Circumstances in New Jersey Child Custody

Every child custody case is different. Some have circumstances that add complexity. Consult with an attorney if any apply of the following to your case.

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Adverse history: Crime, violence, untreated mental illness, drug abuse

Each parent's behavior factors in the judge's decision. This includes any history of crime, violence, severe mental illness or substance abuse.

While having such a history is not automatically disqualifying, if you have one, the court may order a risk assessment to make sure you aren't a danger to the child. Ultimately, your custody orders may include limitations like supervised visitation or supervised exchanges.

Whether your criminal history hurts your case depends on its severity. Some offenses qualify for criminal record expungement, which removes them from your record entirely.

Mental illness becomes a factor if untreated and severe enough to affect a parent's ability to care for their child. The judge considers any past hospitalizations related to the condition and may order a custody evaluation to determine parental fitness.

Substance abuse does not usually affect a parent's chance at custody, so long as they're getting treatment. The court will want to see that you've completed or are currently enrolled in a rehabilitation program.

As proof of your improvement in any of these areas, you could ask a parole officer, a counselor or another professional with knowledge of your changed behavior to testify at trial.


When the parent who provides the child's primary residence wants to move a significant distance within New Jersey or to another state, they can begin a move-away case.

If the noncustodial parent permits the move, parents file a joint long distance parenting plan with the court that accommodates the new arrangement.

Otherwise, the parent wishing to move must file a motion to modify the existing order. They must present a prospective parenting plan and prove that:

  • The move is not meant to interfere with the other parent's access to the child.
  • There's a good reason for the move, such as a new job.
  • The child will have access to healthcare, education and recreation, among other necessities.

To contest, the other parent must show an alternate plan in court and prove why the move could harm the child. For example, they could argue that education in the new area is inferior to what is available in the current location, or that the move will hurt their relationship with the child.

When making a decision, the court considers a number of factors. For example, judges are less likely to approve a move when the child is a senior in high school, since switching schools could impact the child's eligibility for graduation.

If there was never a custody order, either parent can legally move without notice. However, this could be grounds for losing custodial rights, unless the move was designed to protect the child from abuse or violence. (If you suspect the other parent will take your child without permission, you can petition the court for an emergency custody order.)

Parent in the military

New Jersey law protects the custodial rights of active-duty service members. It says:

  • The court cannot issue a final custody order while a parent is deployed for 30 or more days.
  • Upon the parent's return, the court must wait 90 days before issuing an order or granting a request to modify an order.
  • The parent's deployment cannot be the only reason the other parent seeks a modification.
  • Parents must modify their parenting time schedule so the deploying parent can transfer their parenting time to their spouse or a relative.
  • If a parent faces immediate deployment, they can request an expedited hearing to take place before they deploy.

If the parent is relocating to a safe military base, the court may rule it's in the child's best interest to go with the parent. The court's decision is based on:

  • Whether the parent is the child's primary caretaker
  • Living arrangements the parent who is not deploying could provide
  • Living conditions on the military base (e.g., if there's a daycare center)

Grandparent or sibling visitation and custody

In New Jersey, grandparents and adult siblings can request reasonable visitation with a child anytime after the child's parents separate or divorce. To do this, file a Verified Complaint. You'll need to present proof that visitation is in the child's best interest.

Before issuing a visitation order, the court considers:

  • How long the child has been in contact with the relative
  • Current parenting time orders
  • How visitation could impact the child's relationships with their parents
  • Reasons for requesting visitation
  • History of abuse by the relative or parent

Grandparents and siblings can also request custody. To do this, fill out the same complaint linked to above. You must prove in court that the child's parents are unfit, meaning they present an emotional or physical threat to the child due to abuse, neglect or related circumstances.

These custody cases usually involve an evaluation so the court can get a deeper understanding of the situation.

A parent denied custody in favor of a relative may still qualify for supervised visitation.

Non-relative third-party custody (emotional parent)

Someone who is not the biological parent of a child but acts in a parental role can be named the child's emotional parent.

Before assigning this designation, the court considers if:

  • The legal parent permitted or encouraged a parent–child relationship between the third party and the child
  • The party and child lived together
  • The party assumed a parental role by taking responsibility for the child's well-being and growth with no pay expected
  • The party has been in the parental role long enough to have bonded with the child

It's common for the court to order a custody evaluation to determine if granting the third party's request would benefit the child.

Addressing special circumstances in your parenting plan

Your parenting plan should be unique to your family and reflect your specific needs.

If a lawyer is writing your plan, it's important you share with them any circumstances the plan should address.

If you're writing your own plan, you have the flexibility to include what you want. But it must follow a format the judge will understand and use language that leaves no room for interpretation.

The Custody X Change parenting plan template walks you through common provisions, while letting you enter as many custom provisions as you want.

It's a sure way to get a plan that's both up to court standards and tailored to your family.

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