Society today is vastly different than it was even a decade ago, with more parents being unmarried than ever before. In fact, one in four parents living with a child in the U.S. today is unmarried due to a decrease in marriages and an increase in the birth rate, according to Pew Research Center. If an unmarried couple decides to split, custody cannot be considered for the father until paternity has been established. In New Jersey, paternity is established either voluntarily or by a paternity action in court.
Establishing paternity voluntarily
To establish paternity voluntarily, both parents must sign a Certificate of Parentage (also known as a “Voluntary Acknowledgement”) through the Paternity Opportunity Program (POP). A Certificate of Parentage (COP) can be completed at the hospital following the birth, at your local Registrar, or at your local County Welfare Agency. After the certificate is filed with the state Registrar, the father becomes responsible for child support and his name can be added to the child’s birth certificate.
Establishing paternity by court order
If there is a disagreement or uncertainty about the paternity of a child, then a legal action can be filed in New Jersey Superior Court. This action can be brought by the child’s mother, the man who believes he is the child’s father, the child, a guardian or legal representative of the child, or a county welfare agency if the child is receiving state assistance. The court may require genetic testing if there is uncertainty about who fathered the child or if an alleged father denies paternity. If the alleged father refuses genetic testing, the court may consider the refusal as evidence of paternity.
Legal presumption of paternity
New Jersey allows for certain legal presumptions about paternity to apply if it has not been legally established. This may apply if:
- The parents get married within 300 days of the child’s birth.
- The parents get married after the child is born and sign a COP; the husband also has his name added to the birth certificate, tells others he is the child’s biological father and agrees to pay child support.
- A father not married to the mother of the child tells people he is the biological father and provides financial support for the child.
- A child is born during a marriage but the husband is not the biological father. The biological father and mother must sign a COP and the husband and mother must sign a Denial of Parentage form that says the husband is not the biological father. Both forms must be filed with the state Registrar.
- A child is created via artificial insemination to a married couple where the husband consents to the procedure and the procedure is performed with the supervision of a licensed physician.
Once paternity has been established, both parents have legal rights when it comes to child custody and support.
The process for deciding custody, support, and parenting time issues is similar to divorce. One party begins the process by filing a non-dissolution complaint with the court. The parties then proceed to a consent conference, which is similar to mediation except it is not confidential. If the couple’s issues cannot be resolved in the consent conference, then the case will proceed to court.
When it comes to custody rulings, New Jersey courts do not discriminate based on gender. If paternity has been established, both parents have equal rights to seek legal and/or physical custody as well as the right to seek child support.
It is important that you do not wait too long to retain an attorney when you are facing a family law issue. Delays can cost you valuable legal rights, and you want to make sure that you have the advice and support you need to make the best decisions for you and your family long after the divorce settlement is reached. Contact us today for your free consultation.