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.
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.