When two people are married and carry out a divorce, to decide who has legal custody is normally simple. If two parents are in a child’s life, then both will have some form of custody. If one parent waits to establish custody, what are his or her rights to the child? Is there a way to formalize custody if you were not married to begin with in New Jersey?

The answer is that you can formalize custody. When a pair of people is married, then New Jersey presumes that the mother and spouse are the parents. If the two are not married, then the courts require an establishment of paternity. This establishment of paternity may be voluntary or court-ordered.

If a father seeks custody, he can simply sign a Certificate of Parentage after the child’s birth. He can sign it at the hospital or at the local welfare office or county registrar’s office. Now, in the case that a father may dispute the parentage, then a genetic test has to do the verification. All that the courts need for a DNA test is a saliva sample. Either parent can request this test and so can the county office and court.

New Jersey also has the Paternity Opportunity Program. This program makes it easy to establish a legal relationship. The purpose behind making it easy for unmarried parents to gain rights is so that children do not have to go through life without responsible parents.

The above information is to educate on unmarried custody rights. It is not intended to be legal advice.