In New Jersey, a child custody case does not always necessarily mean that a divorce is taking place. Child custody is an issue that may need to be resolved if the parents are unmarried or if another family member wants custody or visitation rights.
In a case where parents are unmarried, a mother generally has primary custody rights unless a father tries to get rights as well. If the mother is a fit parent, it is unlikely that the father can get sole custody. However, the father may also be awarded some custody or visitation rights. Just as would be the case with parents who were getting a divorce, custody and visitation rights may be negotiated between the parents or decided by a judge.
There are cases in which people who are not the parents, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and even family friends, may try to get custody rights. In general, they must go through the court system in order to do this. Grandparents have visitation rights with respect to their grandchildren and may also go to court to have these rights enforced.
Unmarried couples who become parents might want to speak to an attorney about protecting their rights. A father might need to establish paternity. An attorney may also be able to advise people who are trying to get custody of children when they are not the biological parents. This may be necessary if a parent is unfit, incarcerated, missing or deceased. Having a family member or a family friend step in may keep a child from going into the foster system in these circumstances. If multiple family members or other third parties are vying for custody, a court may decide based on what is in the best interests of the child.