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New Jersey Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents

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Child custody is a heated and often difficult issue to agree upon or otherwise resolve in many divorce proceedings.  Custody can be even more complex when the parents are unmarried.  Mothers and fathers both have the same custody rights and responsibilities regarding their children whether they were married or unmarried when the child was born, but if the parents are unmarried, additional challenges can arise.  Learn below about New Jersey’s child custody laws that apply when the parents are unmarried, and speak with a knowledgeable Englewood child custody lawyer about any questions you may have.

Establishing Paternity for Fathers

The most immediate difference between a child born inside and outside of marriage is that a father’s paternity rights are not automatically recognized.  The mother is always presumed to be the legal mother of the child.  If the parents are married, the law presumes the husband is the father.  Likewise, an individual who adopts a child is the legal parent.  If the parents are unmarried, someone will have to take additional steps to legally declare the father’s identity before custody, visitation, or support can be ordered by a New Jersey court.

There are a few ways to establish paternity.  If the parties agree on who is the father, the putative father can sign a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity.  The parties can obtain a certificate of parentage and execute the certificate to establish paternity at the hospital during the child’s birth.  The parties will then need to present identification and fill out the birth certificate in the presence of a valid birth certificate coordinator.  This can be completed at the hospital or later at a local registrar’s office or county welfare agency.

Disputed Paternity

If the parties disagree about who is the biological father of a child, then the parties must undergo a genetic test to verify parentage.  The test can be done using saliva, which will be taken from the father, the child, and the mother.  Either parent may request the genetic test, or the county office or court can order that the test be performed.

Parental Rights Once Paternity Has Been Established

Once paternity has been established, unmarried fathers and mothers have the exact same child custody and other parental rights to their children as do married parents going through a divorce.  The father can seek custody, parenting time, and visitation.  The parents can fight for sole custody or joint custody shared between the two, and they can consider support and visitation just like a divorce proceeding. 

If the matter goes to court, the judge will analyze the case according to the best interests of the child.  New Jersey law does not favor either gender in making custody, visitation, or support determinations.   

Unmarried parents have a legal responsibility to financially support their children.  A mother can separately file for child support from the established father, and the analysis will be the same as if the parties were determining child support upon or after a divorce.

Likewise, even if the parties were never married, a parent who wishes to move out of state with their child must obtain either the consent of the other parent or a court order permitting the relocation.

Legal Help is Available with New Jersey Child Custody Matters

If you are facing issues regarding child custody, visitation, or paternity and need the help of skilled, knowledgeable, and effective New Jersey paternity and custody attorneys in determining your best approach, contact the Englewood offices of Herbert & Weiss at 201-440-6300.

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