Melinda L. Singer, Esquire
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Many children are born to unmarried parents in New Jersey and across the country. This could lead to questions about child custody. If paternity is formally established, the fact that the child's parents are not married makes no difference under the law. However, if both parents did not sign an acknowledgment of paternity, the father's name will not be on the child's birth certificate, and the mother will have no right to child support without first proving paternity.

Does that mean the mother has automatic sole custody of the child? It is essential to understand that the father has the right to take steps to prove paternity at any time after the child's birth. The father can petition the court to order a paternity test. The DNA of the mother, the possible father and the child will then be tested at an approved facility to determine paternity.

Therefore, even if the father's name is not on the birth certificate, once paternity is established, the court could award him shared custody with the mother -- or even sole custody in appropriate circumstances. Having both parents involved is typically considered to be in the best interests of the child. However, if either parent wants to challenge that viewpoint, he or she will have to prove to the court why the other parent may threaten the safety of the child.

Dealing with child custody and the absence of a father's name on a child's birth certificate sometimes involves complicated legal proceedings. Fortunately, an experienced New Jersey family law attorney can simplify the process. With the support and guidance of legal counsel, the best interests of the child can be protected. When that includes having both parents in his or her life, all the better.

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