Unmarried fathers and parental rights

Unmarried biological fathers in New Jersey have a right to access to their children unless that contact is in some way harmful to the children. Courts use the guidelines of the child's best interests in order to determine custody and visitation schedules. For an unmarried father, the first step in getting this access is establishing paternity.

If there is no dispute about paternity, this first step is a simple one. In New Jersey, the father must simply sign a certificate of parentage to establish paternity. However, in the case of disputes, genetic testing is necessary to confirm fatherhood.

Parents who have an amicable relationship may work out a parenting agreement together. The agreement may need to cover issues beyond just those of custody and visitation such as how questions about the child's education and health care will be decided and how arrangements will be altered. Whether or not they have been able to come to a parenting agreement, parents can then petition the court to have a judge create a court order. Having a legal framework in place can protect both the parents and the children in case changes are needed or other problems arise. Fathers are unlikely to be awarded full custody unless they already are full-time caregivers or the child will be unsafe with the mother.

A parent who is going through a domestic partner separation may wish to consult an attorney regarding their rights around child custody, visitation, support and decision-making. Even if a breakup is amicable, it is in everyone's best interests to make sure that there are legal documents covering the care and support of the children. These decisions around child care may become more complex when a civil union is dissolving rather than a marriage, and therefore, an attorney may be helpful.

Source: FindLaw, "Child Visitation, Child Custody and Unmarried Fathers", accessed on Feb. 17, 2015

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