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Child custody: What unmarried parents should know

Not every New Jersey parent facing child custody issues is married. Many child custody situations involve co-parents who have never been married. Unlike divorce, where proceedings typically include property division or alimony issues, unmarried parents do not have to worry about such things. There are still numerous legal issues they might have to resolve, however.

In this state, a man must establish paternity before pursuing custody litigation. The mother's status is presumed, whether or not she is married. There may also be situations where a paternity test is required because a man denies that he is a child's father when another parent is petitioning the court for child support. It's also possible that one may be necessary in order to pursue claims for fathers' rights in court.

If unmarried parents agree on the paternity of a child, a DNA test is not typically necessary. In those cases, the father would sign a formal document acknowledging his paternity. Once the paternity issue is resolved, unmarried parents can devise a parenting plan agreement.

While some unmarried parents in New Jersey prefer to try to work out child custody issues without going to court, most find it best to have a court order in place. This is the best means for protecting a parent's rights and the best interests of a child. A court order is also legally enforceable whereas, if none exists, a parent may have a difficult time resolving a problem that arises regarding child support money, a visitation schedule or other child-related issue. A family law attorney can provide guidance and support to an unmarried parent, just as he or she does for married parents going through divorce.

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