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How Unwed Fathers Can Establish Custody Rights

In New Jersey, an unmarried father has no automatic right to custody, visitation or child support until he can establish paternity. Often, both parents agree on the identity of the father, and the father voluntarily accepts his rights and privileges as a parent.

There are different ways to do this, some simpler than others. The parents can complete a certificate of parentage with the birth certificate coordinator, putting the biological father’s name on the child’s birth certificate, which makes him the legal father. Or the father can complete a certificate of parentage at a later date at a local registrar’s office or county welfare agency. If both the father and the mother change their minds, they have 60 days from the date of the original certificate to cancel it.

If you’re unsure whether you are the baby’s father, you can take a DNA test through your local welfare agency. If you’re not sure you are the father, you should not complete the certificate of parentage.

Once the father establishes paternity, the parents have equal rights to seek custody and visitation, just as divorcing parents do. They can petition the court for sole or joint custody and visitation. They can also ask for permission to relocate with the child out of state.

If the mother is married to someone other than the biological father and they were married at least 300 days before the birth, the law will presume that the mother’s current spouse is the father. The hospital will place his name on the birth certificate without any questions unless he and the mother fill out an affidavit of denial of paternity. Then the mother and the biological father can fill out a certificate of parentage. When both forms are complete, the hospital or county will add the biological father’s name to the birth certificate.

Paternity can also be an issue in child support cases, when payments are sought from an uncooperative alleged father. If the man refuses to acknowledge paternity, then the court or the county welfare agency can order a paternity test. At that point, both parents and the child are tested. If the test scores 95 percent or higher, the man will be legally presumed to be the father. If the alleged father refuses to take the paternity test, he can be charged with contempt of court, leading to fines and criminal charges. Note, however, that a man cannot be compelled to pay child support until paternity is proven.

If you are seeking to establish paternity and a relationship with your child, you should work with an experienced and knowledgeable New Jersey fathers’ rights attorney who can present your case in the most positive light.

The Law Offices of Kisha M. Hebbon, LLC in Somerset represents clients in child custody matters and other family law cases throughout New Jersey, including Somerset, Middlesex and Union counties. Call us at 732-873-6464 or contact us online today.

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