Why is Establishing Paternity Important?
Among the many headlines generated by Elon Musk this year was his acknowledgement that he fathered three children with two different mothers within a period of two months. Musk admitted to becoming a father to twins in November 2021 with a senior executive at his artificial intelligence startup, Neuralink, several weeks before announcing the birth of a second child with the musician Grimes.
There is no question about his paternity in the case of the twins, as he and the mother filed an order in a Texas court to change their last names to “Musk.” But there are often instances where a man contests his paternity and a court must determine who is the father of the child.
Paternity means legal fatherhood, and establishing paternity provides numerous benefits to the father, mother and child. Establishing paternity is the first step to achieving a healthy father-child relationship, which is fundamental to a child’s development. If the father and mother are not living together or they are contesting custody or visitation rights, legal paternity may need to be established before a court can order custody or visitation to the father.
Once the court establishes paternity, the father is legally responsible for the child. This means the child can receive child support and legal rights until they reach 18 or the age of majority in their state. In addition to financial support, the benefits under New Jersey law include the following:
The father gains legal rights by having his name on the birth certificate
The child has access to any benefits the father has such as Social Security, health insurance, Veterans benefits and wrongful death benefits
The child has access to both families’ medical histories and lineage
When a man and woman are married at the time of a child's conception or birth, there is a presumption of paternity. By New Jersey law, if a mother is married at the time of conception, birth or during the 300 days before giving birth, then her husband is believed to be the father of the child. The husband’s name will automatically be placed on the birth certificate unless he fills out a form that says he is not.
For unmarried individuals who want to prove they are legal parents, the New Jersey Office of Child Support and Paternity Programs (OCSPP) has a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity program called the Paternity Opportunity Program (POP). A father can sign a Certificate of Parentage and it will have the same force and effect as a court order or a judgment of paternity. If a voluntary acknowledgement is signed anywhere other than the hospital or local registrar's office or if established by the court, the parents must request that the father's name is placed on the birth certificate. This is not done automatically.
If there is a paternity contest or a man refuses to acknowledge he fathered a child, a judge may order a paternity test. The test takes a DNA sample such as blood or a cheek swab to confirm paternity or rule the man out as the child's father. In New Jersey, an allegation of paternity must be made by the child's mother or custodial parent, a man claiming to be the child's biological father or the child before the state can start to establish paternity. After the allegation is made, the process to establish paternity will begin within 90 days of locating the alleged father.
In cases where there is more than one alleged father, the OCSPP will begin proceedings against all alleged fathers named by the client. An alleged father can be excluded from the proceedings if genetic testing reveals less than a 95 percent probability of paternity or if the court says he is not the father. Paternity can be established even if either parent is under 18 years of age.
Both parents have the right to establish a healthy relationship and share the responsibility of caring for their child. If you have questions or concerns about paternity, or need help establishing paternity, please contact us at 973.707.3322 or LFarber@LFarberLaw.com.
The contents of this writing are intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or circumstances.