You're a single parent living in New Jersey, but you're not getting divorced because you were never married in the first place so you never had to go to court. While your child spent most of her time with her mother as a baby, you would like to formalize the custody arrangements; but how? Assuming it's in your child's best interests, the court will make sure you have adequate parenting time with your child. But you'll need to initiate the process yourself, preferably with the cooperation of your child's other parent.
When a child is born to parents who are married, the mother's spouse is presumed to be the other parent. Similarly, the individual who adopted a child is considered the legal parent. But for unmarried biological parents, any custody or visitation awards pertaining to the child require the establishment of paternity either through voluntary acknowledgment or a court-ordered DNA test.
Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents in New Jersey: The Basics
When you're trying to get custody of your child or seeking visitation, you just want to know your rights and obligations; you certainly don't have time to translate the "legalese" that makes up most state codes. The following is a clear, no-nonsense summary of custody laws for unmarried parents in New Jersey.
How to Establish Paternity
In order for the father to seek custody of (and visitation with) his child -- in addition to creating a support order, obtaining employer-subsidized health care for the child, and to protect the child's rights to death benefits -- paternity must be established.
This may be done in a couple of different ways, depending on the circumstances:
- When a father agrees that the child is his, he simply signs a voluntary Certificate of Parentage after the child's birth at the hospital. Alternatively, this document may be signed at a state or county registrar's office or a local welfare office.
- New Jersey's Paternity Opportunity Program (POP) requires hospitals to provide unmarried parents with the opportunity to voluntarily acknowledge paternity.
- In the event a suspected father doesn't agree the child is his, a genetic test must be done to verify parentage; this can be done with a small saliva sample (the child, the mother, and the suspected father all must be tested).
- Either parent may request the genetic test; alternatively, it may be required by the county office or ordered by the court.
- If the test scores a 95% or higher, the man is presumed to be the child's father.
Family Law Forms/Resources for Unmarried Parents
Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
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Custody Law for Unmarried Parents in New Jersey: Related Resources
Learn More About Custody Laws From a New Jersey Attorney
While child custody determinations all hinge on the child's best interests, there are special considerations for unmarried parents -- particularly in cases where paternity hasn't been established. If you're involved in a custody dispute in the Garden State, your best option is to work with an experienced New Jersey family law attorney near you.