Paternity – Shared or Joint Custody

A significant amount of the court’s resources are devoted to making sure children born out of wedlock are properly supported.1 This often requires the court to determine the identification of the natural (biological) father of the child, a process more commonly referred to as “establishing paternity.”

The need to establish paternity is found most commonly in cases involving child support. The mother or guardian of a child will file a complaint requesting that the court establish a child support award. Along with a request for child support, the complaint will also contain the name of the purported natural father.

1 If a child is born of a marriage, there is a presumption that the husband is the father of the child.

After the alleged father is served with a copy of the complaint filed by the mother, the court will schedule a “consent conference.” A consent conference is normally conducted by a court official for the particular county in which the complaint was filed.

During the consent conference, the alleged father will have the opportunity to officially acknowledge the child as his natural son, if he has not already done so. A natural father may acknowledge a child by adding his name to the child’s birth certificate or by acknowledging that the child is his to his family and friends.

If the alleged father acknowledges that he is the father of the child, a Judgment of Paternity is prepared and signed by the parties. The judgment is an order that confirms the existence of the parent-child relationship and may contain other provisions concerning support, visitation, reasonable expenses related to the pregnancy, and any matter in the best interest of the child.

If child support has been requested by the mother or guardian of the child, the mother/guardian and father will probably be scheduled to appear before a Child Support Hearing Officer to recommend an appropriate child support award. In determining the amount of support to be paid and the period during which the support is owed, the court has to apply the child support guidelines adopted by the State of New Jersey.

If the alleged father fails to acknowledge the child (or fails to appear for the consent conference), the court often requires the alleged father to undergo a paternity test. Before the court orders the alleged father to undergo the paternity test, the party seeking paternity must submit a sworn statement establishing a reasonable possibility of paternity.

The burden is on the alleged father to show good cause as to why the genetic testing should not go forward. The court will usually order that the paternity test take place within a very short amount of time, such as ten days from the date of the consent conference. Upon receipt of the results of the paternity test, the court will send copies of the results of the test to the parties.

If the results meet or exceed the specific threshold of probability set by the State of New Jersey, a conclusive presumption of paternity is established and the court will enter a Judgment of Paternity. The test results normally indicate decisively whether the alleged father is in fact the alleged father.

The alleged father will often be obligated to pay for the costs related to the testing if indeed he is determined to be the natural father. The parties will then be scheduled to appear before a Child Support Hearing Officer to determine an appropriate child support award.

If the alleged father fails to participate in paternity testing as ordered by the court or the results of the paternity test do not meet or exceed the specific probability threshold set by the State of New Jersey, the action will need to be listed for trial. If the alleged father still continues to refuse to participate in the litigation, a Judgment of Paternity may be entered by default.

If you are a parent who needs support from the father of your children or if you are accused of fathering children that are not yours, you will need experienced attorneys to guide you through the process. Even if paternity is established, child support will still need to be appropriately determined by the court. Contact the attorneys at Donahue Hagan Klein & Weisberg today to make sure your rights are protected.

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