Child Custody and Unmarried Parents
Unmarried parents that do not live together can face certain challenges when it comes to making child custody and parenting-time arrangements. One of the first hurdles is paternity, since unmarried fathers are not assumed to be a child’s biological parent. This affects a father’s rights in NJ. Without proof or paternity, these fathers can be stopped from getting child custody and parenting-time rights. In turn, the mothers may not be able to seek child support.
Other issues for these partners include establishing parental rights at doctor’s offices and schools, paying taxes, health insurance, and applying for government benefits.
If this was not done at the hospital when the child was born, both parents can complete a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity. This document will establish legal paternity. In situations where the mother disputes the paternity, the father may contact Child Support Enforcement or initiate a claim in family court in the county in which the child resides. After this is resolved, the unmarried biological father will be entitled to the same visitation and child custody rights as a biological father that is legally married.
There are different court rules and procedures that unmarried couples must take that are different from those of married and divorcing couples. For unmarried couples, the cases are handled on a summary basis with the assistance of a law clerk or a Probation Officer. They may assist the parties in determining an appropriate custodial designation and a parenting-time schedule. Many couples choose to create their own custodial and parenting-time plan based on their individual circumstances. If a mutual agreement cannot be reached, the parties will provide sworn testimony to a judge and the judge may make the ultimate determination.
When determining custody and parenting-time, the NJ court system puts the child’s best interests first. Factors like any history of domestic abuse or violence, drug or alcohol abuse, financial situations, and how well the parents can cooperate and communicate are all considered. The parents must be fit, and be able to provide a stable and safe home.
There are three general types of custody in New Jersey; joint legal custody (which is presumed absent a finding that one or the other parent is unfit), joint custody and sole custody. For joint legal custody, one parent is the parent of primary residence, where the child will reside for the majority of time, and the other is the parent of alternate residence, where the child will go for parenting-time. However, both parents with joint legal custody have equal rights to determine issues regarding their child’s health, education and welfare.
Joint custody is where the child resides on an approximate 50/50 basis with each parent. This generally requires that the parents live in the same vicinity and that they can communicate effectively and cooperatively about parenting issues. They are each still afforded equal rights to determine issues of the child’s health, education and welfare. Sole custody is generally awarded when one parent is not able to actively take care of the child and so the child lives with one parent primarily. The parent with sole custody makes all determinations regarding the child’s health, education and welfare. The non-custodial parent may still have parenting-time with the child but it may be limited as to time and place and in whose presence the visits takes place.
NJ custody laws for unmarried parents are no different than the laws for married parents.
If you are an unmarried parent struggling with custody issues, contact Somerville child custody lawyer Katherine K. Wagner. Our office has extensive experience handling child custody cases and can provide you with skilled legal guidance. Cor contact us online today. We are located in Somerville, New Jersey, and represent families in Somerset County, Hunterdon County and Middlesex County.
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Katherine K. Wagner, Attorney At Law is located in Somerville, NJ and serves clients in and around Somerville, Raritan, Lyons, Bridgewater, Manville, Zarephath, Neshanic Station, Pluckemin, Whitehouse, Martinsville, Bound Brook, Belle Mead, South Bound Brook, Bedminster, Whitehouse Station, Three Bridges, Liberty Corner, Warren, Middlesex, Somerset, Stanton, Skillman, Blawenburg, Far Hills and Somerset County.
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