The New Jersey Parentage Act

Mothers and fathers have a lot to consider when they conceive a child. Sometimes a couple is in an ongoing relationship like a marriage. Very often they are not. The child might be unexpected and the couple might be estranged. These are difficult circumstances for all involved, the mother, father, and the child. Under these circumstances what are the rights and responsibilities of mom and dad and the child? Helfand & Associates located at 575 Route 10 East, Whippany, New Jersey 07981, telephone number (973) 428-0800 handles all issues related to unwed parents and their children.

During pregnancy- Only mom has the right to decide what will happen with the fetus during her pregnancy. It is her body. Even if she misrepresented her use of birth control to the father, or if there was an “accident”, if the child was not planned for, only mom has the right to decide whether to keep or terminate the pregnancy. Therefore, men of all ages must be aware of this fact. A brief casual sexual encounter can result in a lifetime of responsibility. The law does not consider the circumstances of the conception whether intentional or accidental. Essentially if the parties have sexual relations consensually the child is both parties responsibility. However, during the months of the pregnancy mom has exclusive rights to decide what will occur during the pregnancy she has no legal responsibility to dad, as it is again deemed her body and her life exclusively until the child is born. She has the option to get an abortion or not in accordance with the law, no matter what dad wants.

From Mom’s Perspective- Is it better to involve the biological father in the child’s life or not? If the parties are estranged the mother must consider if she should or should not tell the father, as it may have an impact on whether she can move out of state and whether she can unilaterally make all decisions regarding the child’s religious upbringing, education, health and general welfare. She also will have no emotional or financial help from the father. At the same time the child is missing an extremely important person in his/her life-dad and the child has the right to be supported. It is not the mother’s right to waive this support.

From Dad’s Perspective- If the mother decides to involve the father or if he decides he wants to be involved, he will be responsible to help with the care-giving and financial burden of raising the child. Once a man is established through a paternity test as the biological father a legal relationship which confers or imposes rights, privileges, duties, and obligations begins. Dad has obligations to pay for child support, medical bills, and insurance. He also can seek joint legal custody and shared physical custody if he chooses to do so.

Determining Parentage

A natural mother just has to give birth to be considered the parent of the child. A natural father, who is not married to the biological mother and has no plans to marry her, under N.J. Stat. 9:17-38 to 59, otherwise known as the Parentage Act, has to either acknowledge his paternity of the child in a writing which has to be filed with the local registrar of vital statistics or he has to take legal action and a paternity test to put his name on the child’s birth certificate. N.J.Stat.9:17-43. If a child is born during a marriage the husband is presumed to be the father. If he questions whether he is the father during a marriage he should take a paternity test as soon as possible. If years go by and the man accepts his role as the father, the child can continue to depend on this fact. Dad really cannot back out years later under the law.

If either parent brings an action to establish who the biological father of an unborn child is, the proceedings are stayed until after the birth so a paternity test can be done. However, one benefit to naming a father during pregnancy is so the mother can request the court order the alleged father to pay her “reasonable” pregnancy and childbirth expenses. N.J.Stat. 9:17-45.

In a case of unwed or estranged parents, the mother does not have to automatically name the biological father on the child’s birth certificate. However, once it is established through a paternity test who the biological father is, the birth certificate will be amended to include the biological father’s name. N.J.Stat. 9:17-53.

Another benefit to the child and biological mother of acknowledging the biological father is that he will be obligated to pay child support to help share the enormous expense of rearing a child. Child support is established by the child support guidelines or utilizing the following nine (9) statutory factors to determine if an amount deviating from the guidelines is warranted: needs of the child; standard of living and economic circumstances of each parent; income and assets of each parent; earning ability of each parent; need and capacity of the child for education; age and health of the child and each parent; income, assets and earning ability of the child; responsibility of the parents for the support of others; and debts and liabilities of each child and parent. N.J.Stat. 9:17-53. Helfand & Associates in Morris County can always help with all child support matters.

Above are just a few factors to consider when dealing with a situation where mom and dad are not married and not together. Helfand & Associates can help you with all of the paternity, custody and child support issues. We will help you get the best possible result in your case. Always remember however if both parents are fit parents the courts will protect the interest of all parties and will likely ensure that the child will have the benefit of both parents in his/her life.

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