What are your rights as an unmarried father in New Jersey?

Photo of attorney Melinda L. Singer

Getting married does come with certain privileges that unmarried people don’t have. There are certain legal benefits for marriage, ranging from whether the courts can compel you to testify against another person in a criminal case to inheritance benefits.

When it comes to children, married parents unquestionably have certain protections that unmarried parents don’t get. Specifically, there is a presumption of paternity when a married couple arrives at a maternity ward for the birth of a child. The state of New Jersey presumes that the spouse of the mother is the father of the child, and no steps are necessary to include him on the birth certificate.

The same is simply not true for an unmarried father. What are your rights as an expectant or current father in New Jersey not married to the mother of the child?

You and the mother can complete a Certificate of Parentage together

If you will be with the mother for the birth of the child and she agrees that you are the father, the two of you can complete a Certificate of Parentage form at the hospital that will have your name included on the birth certificate. Once that happens, you are legally the father of the child.

Your right to have your name added to the birth certificate doesn’t end when your child comes home from the hospital. Even if it has been years since the birth of your child, provided that the mother agrees to work with you, it is still possible to execute a certificate of parentage for as long as the child is a minor and remains unemancipated.

You have the right to parenting time or custody sharing if you break up

If your relationship with the mother ends, that doesn’t mean that your relationship with or obligation to the children ends.

If you are already on the birth certificate, you can request shared custody or parenting time from the New Jersey courts. If you are not on the birth certificate, you may want to ask to complete the certificate to add you now. If the mother refuses to cooperate, you may need to go to the courts and ask them for their assistance in establishing paternity. Once you do so, you can then proceed with requesting custody or parenting time with your child.

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