Why Proving Paternity Is Important
There’s a difference between biological parentage and legal parentage. A child can be raised by adopted parents or foster parents, or by a legal guardian. A child can also be raised by the mother alone. Biological mothers are given an automatic presumption of legal parentage. For fathers, unless they are married to the mother, legal paternity may not be presumed. Additional steps need to be taken to ensure that the father has the same parental rights and responsibilities as the child’s mother. Below, we discuss the reasons why establishing paternity is important for all parties involved. If you have any questions or need assistance with a paternity or child custody dispute, call a dedicated New Jersey child custody attorney for advice and representation.
Maternity Is Presumed, Paternity May Not Be
When a woman gives birth to a child, the law (reasonably) presumes that she is the mother of that child. Unless there’s a surrogacy agreement or adoption agreement in place, the birth mother of a child is that child’s legal mother until there’s a court order declaring otherwise. The fact of birth is conclusive proof that the mother is, actually, related to the child.
Fathers do not always benefit from such a presumption. If the mother is married at the time the child is born, the law presumes that her spouse is the child’s other parent. The father’s name will be added to the birth certificate, and he will be treated as the father unless someone steps in to challenge his paternity.
If, however, the mother is unmarried, then there is no presumption of paternity. Only the mother will be listed on the birth certificate unless additional steps are taken to legally establish the child’s father.
Until Paternity is Established, Fathers Have No Parental Rights (or Obligations)
Legal parents have many different rights and responsibilities regarding their children. They can make decisions regarding their child’s education, living situation, upbringing, religious involvement, and medical decisions. They can claim the child as a dependent on their tax returns. They have the right to take their child to other locations. The child benefits from the parent’s health insurance and will inherit their parent’s estate automatically unless a will or other device says otherwise. Parents are also required to support their children, at least financially.
Until paternity is established, the biological father has no such rights. If the biological father is not listed on the birth certificate or has otherwise obtained legal status as a parent, the father does not have any legal rights or obligations concerning the child. The father cannot make decisions about the child’s medical care, they cannot take the child away from the mother without permission, and the child will not be covered by their health insurance plans or other benefits. If the father is not involved in raising the child, the mother has no right to obtain child support from the father unless and until paternity is established.
Paternity grants the father the right to seek custody and visitation, gives the father the ability to travel with the child, provides the mother with the right to seek child support, and allows the child to receive all the benefits of the parent-child relationship.
How to Establish Paternity in New Jersey
The easiest way to establish paternity is for both parents to sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity (a Certificate of Parentage form). The form is typically available at the hospital where the child is born. The parties can also go to the local registrar or county welfare agency to sign and file the form.
If either party contests paternity, then the party seeking to establish paternity must take the matter to court. The party will file an action to establish paternity. The court will likely order genetic testing to determine if there’s a biological connection between the putative father and the child. If the DNA is a match, or the father refuses to consent to testing, the court will likely issue an order declaring the father to be the child’s legal parent.
Call Today for Help With Your New Jersey Parentage Dispute
If you’re looking to establish or challenge paternity, or if you’re dealing with issues involving parental rights, child custody, equitable division of property, alimony/spousal support, child support, or other family law matters in New Jersey, contact the diligent and dedicated Union family law attorney John B. D’Alessandro for a consultation.