Find out how to establish paternity and why it's beneficial for you and your child.
Establishing paternity can benefit parents and their children. Paternity provides fathers with a legal right to request visitation. For single mothers going it alone, a paternity determination will allow them to seek financial support from a child's legal father. Moreover, children born outside of marriage may benefit by maintaining a relationship with both parents and cultivating the love and security that comes through a strong parent-child connection.
This article provides an overview of paternity and discusses how to establish it in New Jersey. If you have additional questions about paternity after reading this article, contact a local family law attorney for advice.
Paternity is essentially fatherhood. In New Jersey, establishing paternity means that a state agency or a court has decided that an individual is a child's father. Paternity can also be established voluntarily, through an agreement of the parents. This process can be as simple as both parents signing an acknowledgment of paternity form and filing it with the New Jersey Department of Health. Both methods are discussed below.
A child born during a marriage (or within 10 months following a mother's divorce or her husband's death) is presumed to be the mother's husband's child. In other cases where a child is conceived outside of marriage, or beyond the 10-month time frame, paternity will need to be established either voluntarily or by court order through a paternity action.
A notarized "Certificate of Parentage" (also called a "Voluntary Acknowledgment") form signed by both parents is the simplest and most cost-effective way to establish paternity. By signing this document, both the mother and father agree and acknowledge that they are the child's parents.
Once the completed Certificate of Parentage is filed with the Department of Health, the father's name can be added to the child's birth certificate. It's rather difficult to change or retract (take back) a Certificate of Parentage once it's been filed. Some parents agree to submit to genetic testing before signing in order to make certain about parentage.
When parents can't agree who the child's father is, a paternity case can be filed in the New Jersey Superior Court. Any of the following can bring a paternity case:
After a paternity action is filed, if a mother is uncertain which of two or more persons is the father or if the alleged father continues to deny paternity, the court may require genetic testing. An alleged father's refusal to submit to genetic testing may serve as evidence of paternity in certain cases.
A paternity action may be filed by the child at any time. A case may be brought by the individuals listed above at any time before the child's 23rd birthday. Although paternity actions in New Jersey can be brought while the mother is still pregnant, a court will not make a decision on paternity until the child is born.
A child can benefit from developing an emotional bond with both parents. A healthy child-parent relationship may help cultivate your child's sense of security and belonging. Paternity also gives your child legal rights, including the legal right to inherit from both parents and, in some cases, the right to Social Security or veteran's benefits upon a parent's death.
Being a legal father results in both rights and responsibilities. Once paternity is established, a child's father may seek custody rights, including regular visitation and the right to have a say in decisions affecting the child's welfare, including decisions about medical care and education.
A paternity order allows a custodial mother to ask that the legal father contribute financial support to help with the costs of raising the child. This financial support can be in the form of child support, both past and future, and medical expenses associated with the child's birth. She may also ask a court to order that the father add his or her child to a health insurance plan.
New Jersey maintains an extensive self-help website for parents who want to file a paternity case on their own. Go to http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/prose/index.htm for more information.
See the full text of the New Jersey Parentage Act here.
If you have other questions about establishing paternity in New Jersey, contact an experienced family law attorney for assistance.