Establishing paternity, or legal fatherhood, gives the father the right to seek court-ordered visitation with his child. In the absence of legal paternity, the mother can prevent the father from seeing the child. 

In New Jersey, follow these steps to establish a legal relationship with your child: 

  1. Sign the Certificate of Parentage

When a married couple has a child together, the husband is automatically the legal father. Unmarried parents must sign the Certificate of Parentage to establish legal fatherhood. In New Jersey, you can sign and file this document for free at the hospital when the baby is born if both parents agree to do so. After the birth, the parents can complete this form at the local welfare agency or registrar office. 

  1. Determine uncertain paternity

If either parent is not sure about the father’s identity, he or she should not complete the Certificate of Parentage. Instead, the individual should seek a legal DNA test to establish legal paternity. The state Paternity Opportunity Office can provide information about testing in your area. If you signed the certificate but have doubts that you are the father, you have 60 days to request legal cancellation. 

Either the mother or potential father can request a court-ordered DNA test through the Department of Health and Human Services. If the mother applies for government benefits, the county or court may request a paternity test so the child can begin receiving financial support from the father. The New Jersey court will grant legal paternity if the test shows at least a 95% likelihood that the man is the father. 

Establishing fatherhood through the state has significant benefits for both the father and child. The father enjoys the legal right to spend time with his child, share custody and create a loving relationship that can last a lifetime. Paternity also gives the child access to the father’s health insurance, veteran or Social Security benefits and allows the primary residential parent to seek legal child support.