Filing for custody in New Jersey is as easy as including the request in your complaint for divorce. From there, the process becomes a little more complicated. New Jersey courts don't want to decide custody issues for you if they don't have to, so the state mandates some procedures to help you try to reach an agreement with your spouse on your own.
Decide on the custody terms you want. You and your spouse can share joint legal custody where both of you contribute to making major decisions for your children, or you can request sole legal custody, where you're the only parent to make such decisions. If you would like your children to live with you most of the time and have visitation with their other parent, this is "primary residential custody" in New Jersey and you'd be the "parent of primary residence."
Use your divorce complaint to request the custody terms you'd like the court to order. If your spouse filed for divorce first, you can make these same requests in your answer and counterclaim to his complaint. At the end of each document, there's a section called your "prayers for relief." You can use this section to spell out the custody terms you've decided on.
Attend the parent's education program, which is mandatory under New Jersey's legislative code for all divorce cases that involve minor children. The program is a preparatory course for attending custody mediation, which is also mandatory.
Attend mediation with your spouse. A neutral third party – the mediator – will attempt to help you agree to a parenting plan and custody terms. The mediator can't force you to agree to anything you're not comfortable with, but can give you suggestions regarding what might work best for your children in your particular situation.
Review the mediation agreement, if you reach one. The mediator will write up the terms and send a copy to you or your attorney. The agreement can then be incorporated into a consent order, which can in turn merge with your divorce judgment when you divorce.