When custody disputes arise, I often consider the Biblical narrative, 1 Kings 3:16-28, which tells the story of how King Solomon resolved a custody dispute of sorts between two women who lived in the same home. The women came before King Solomon, each claiming to be the mother of the same baby boy. King Solomon called for a sword and rendered his judgment: He would cut the baby in two so that each woman could receive half. The first woman did not contest Solomon’s decision, arguing that if she could not have the baby, then neither woman could. The second woman begged King Solomon to give the baby to the other woman instead of killing the baby. King Solomon declared the second woman as the infant’s true mother, reasoning that as a mother she would give up the baby if she had to in order to save his life.
In custody cases, I often see people come in with some preconceived notion about how they think family court judges handle custody cases. Some, for instance, are of the false believe that mothers are presumed to have primary custody of children and that they come in “ahead” somehow in a custody dispute. That is not the case. They also believe that it is presumed that fathers are going to then have limited time with the children. Neither is the case. New Jersey’s custody statute, N.J.S.A. 9:2-4, states the Legislature’s policy is to “assure minor children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage and that it is in the public interest to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing in order to effect this policy”. The statue also states that “In any proceeding involving the custody of a minor child, the rights of both parents shall be equal . . .”.
Some litigants when they come in think that there is a presumption that the children will be “split in half” so to speak – as King Solomon suggested, and that this is done by splitting the time with the children in half, like splitting a bank account. There is no such presumption in New Jersey of 50/50 parenting time. Equal parenting time is an option for the family court under the existin custody, statute but it is not presumed.