People often refer to me as a “divorce lawyer.” In fact, I am a “family law attorney” because the definition of family has expanded so dramatically in recent years as has the impact of the law on all sorts of non-traditional families.
Beyond same sex marriages being legalized, perhaps the biggest area of family law that has become an important issue is that a growing number of unmarried fathers are seeking to have their parental rights maintained and enforced. The Centers for Disease Control report that 40-percent of children are born in a non-traditional family, up from just 18-percent in 2007.
Whether or not a child is born in wedlock, the law says that both parents have a right to be involved in the lives of the child. Yet sometimes, the mother of a child born from a man to whom she was not married tries blocking or interfering with dad’s right to see and interact with the youngster.
It is good for the father and it is especially good for the children. The newspapers are filled with articles about the negative impact on kids whose father is not part of their growing up.
Legal Rights of Unmarried Fathers in New Jersey
When an unmarried father comes to me because he wants access to his kids, we explain that the first thing a court wants to establish is the child’s paternity. When a couple is married, the man is assumed to be the father. But when the man and woman never exchanged vows, it may be necessary to establish the paternity of the dad.
This is especially the case if the mother is denying that our client is the father. We can ask the court to order a paternity test which examines the DNA connection of the child and the dad who is trying to assert his rights and have access to the kids.
Once paternity is established, an unmarried dad has the same rights to be involved with his children as a divorced father. We can help him apply to the family court for …
- Visitation rights
- Shared or joint custody, or co-parenting
- Information about the child’s education and medical history
- Attending parent-teacher meetings
- Allowing the child to visit their paternal grandparents and other relatives
He also has an obligation to contribute to the child’s financial support based on his income.
Unless the unmarried father lived with the mother when the child was born, it is unlikely a court will consider a request to become the custodial parent. Typical exceptions to this would be if the mother has a history of alcohol or drug abuse, has a documented history of physically or sexually abusing the children, is entangled in the criminal justice system, or is unable to financially or emotionally support the kids.
With Rights Come Responsibilities
Unwed fathers have rights and responsibilities like any other fathers do. In New Jersey as in every other state, a family law judge must take the best interests of the children into account above all other considerations.
But given the lack of a legal marriage between the parents, establishing and enforcing these rights are considerably more complicated. Men who find themselves as unwed parents, whether intentionally or not, need to take appropriate steps to ensure their parental rights and to meet their parental obligations. It is not a matter to be taken lightly when the well-being of a child is stake.
We have helped a number of unmarried fathers obtain access to their children.
If you are an unmarried father in New Jersey who wants to establish your parental rights, feel free to call me or any of our family law attorneys for fathers in New Jersey. Reach us at either 973.562.0100 in Nutley or, in Montclair, at 862.245.4620.