Filing for child custody is long and arduous in any state–New Jersey is no exception. The process begins by drafting a Complaint for Child Custody, which initiates the proceedings in court. You must draft, file and serve the complaint appropriately or the judge may dismiss your custody matter before you get a chance to appear in court. The judge also can issue sanctions and other penalties if he determines you deliberately ignored the court’s procedural rules to hinder the other parent’s ability to respond.
Determine which court maintains jurisdiction over your custody matter. New Jersey bases jurisdiction in custody cases squarely on the child’s residence. Note that if your child does not reside within the state, you will not be able to file for custody in New Jersey–you will need to file in the state where your child resides.
Contact the clerk of the Superior Court (Chancery Division, Family Part) in the county that holds jurisdiction and request a copy of the court’s style guide for custody pleadings. Also, inquire if the court offers a blank complaint form–if so, request a copy to use as your guideline for drafting your complaint.
Start a new typewritten document using your favorite word processor, or utilize the blank complaint form you obtained from the court clerk, if applicable. Create a case caption at the top of the document. List your full legal name as a plaintiff and the other parent’s full legal name as the defendant. Enter the name of the court as “Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, County of (Your County).”
Draft a Complaint for Child Custody, or continue filling out the complaint form, if applicable. State your name, physical address and your custody demands–for example, primary physical custody, joint legal custody or sole physical custody. New Jersey recognizes physical and legal custody as two separate forms of custody, so you will need to specify both if you intend to file for sole physical and legal custody of your child. You can locate sample complaints online to use as a guide if you are drafting the complaint yourself.
Provide your child’s full name, Social Security number, date of birth, current age and current physical address underneath your demand for custody. Repeat this process for each minor child for whom you are seeking custody. Underneath this list, provide the full name, date of birth and current age for each of your adult children, if applicable.
Sign and date the bottom of your completed complaint when you are finished. Make a copy of the signed complaint and retain it for your personal records.
File the original signed complaint with the family court clerk. There is a filing fee of $135 (as of June 2010) that you must pay via check, money order or cash (some counties also accept major credit cards) at the time of filing. If the clerk accepts your complaint for filing, you will receive a new docket number for the custody matter.
Make a copy of the filed complaint. Draft a short letter explaining that you have filed a complaint seeking child custody and that a copy of the pleading is enclosed. Seal the correspondence and a copy of the complaint in an envelope, and then make notice of filing to the other parent. You must do this via hand-delivery, either by courier or via certified mail with return receipt. You can also retain a disinterested party to hand-deliver notice, but you cannot serve the notice yourself. Retain the receipt as proof of delivery. If you enlisted a friend to deliver the notice for you, you must have her sign a statement declaring the date and time she made the service.