What Rights Does a Father Have When Parents Are Unmarried?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Dec 30, 2022 | 0 Comments

Modern families are a diverse bunch. It is increasingly common for a child to be born to unmarried parents. To accommodate these circumstances, the court system in New Jersey has established an alternative to divorce called a “non-dissolution ‘FD' case” for when unmarried parents part ways.

It is used to establish paternity, child support, legal custody, parenting time agreements for biological parents, and grandparent/sibling visitation arrangements.

Where to File

To file a non-dissolution FD case, a complaint must be filed in the county where the parents live. The resolution process is different than that of married couples in that it is done with the help of a law clerk or a probation officer. If the parties can't agree on matters such as custody arrangements or parenting time, the case will go to a judge who will ultimately adjudicate a decision.

Establishing Paternity

When a child is born in New Jersey, and the parents are not married, the mother automatically gets custody. Unless if at the time of birth, both parents complete a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity or the father initiates a complaint for a DNA test, the father will not have any parental rights.

In any case, the father does not have rights before the child is born.

Once paternity is established, the same rules about child support will apply as they would in a divorce.

Types of Custody in an FD Case

Once a father has established his paternity, he can negotiate a custody arrangement. There are three broad categories of custody in New Jersey:

  • Joint legal custody of unmarried parents. This involves having one parent's home serving as the primary residence, with the other parent having a visitation agreement.
  • Joint custody usually involves a 50/50 split between parents' residences. This means they must come to agreements on parenting issues regarding the education, health, and welfare of the child.
  • Sole custody. This occurs when one parent declines to be a part of the child's life or when one is declared unfit—a high bar that includes documented substance abuse, mental illness, or abuse or neglect of a child. Generally, a parent must demonstrate an ability to provide a safe, secure, nurturing home. The custodial parent has all rights regarding the child's education, religious orientation, health care, and residence.

You Need a Guide

If you have a child and are not married to the other parent, navigating a way to custody can be a harrowing journey. Joseph Lento has advised hundreds of clients on this life-changing matter in key family courts in New Jersey.

If you have questions about the best way to achieve a successful outcome, call The Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a veteran of one of the nation's busiest family courts with nearly 20 years' experience passionately helping families. By day, he worked in the trenches of family court, and at night, he studied the law. He helped countless families while working at family court, and he went on to become an attorney, dedicating his law practice to continuing the work he started years earlier. Mr. Lento's experience both behind the scenes and on the front lines allows him to understand a client's family law matter from all angles, and allows him to find and employ the most effective strategies to get favorable outcomes for any client. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in New Jersey and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings! He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and protects their interests.


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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience practicing Family Law in New Jersey. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you and your family, contact our offices today. Family Law Attorney Joseph Lento will go above and beyond the needs for any client and fight for what is fair.

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