Custody disputes should be settled in favor of the natural parent unless a third party is a “psychological parent,” a biological parent is unfit or exceptional circumstances exist, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in a split decision.

“A review of the statutory and common law of custody disputes convinces us that in an action between a parent and a third party, a presumption of custody exists in favor of the parent,” Justice James Coleman Jr. wrote for the 5-2 majority in Watkins v. Nelson, A-11-99. “New Jersey’s comprehensive custody-statutory scheme proclaims that ‘it is in the public policy of this State to assure minor children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents.’”