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What is New Jersey Law for Establishing Paternity?

By Jamie Berger, Esq.

File a Complaint to Establish Paternity With the Help of New Jersey Family Lawyers

New Jersey has measures in place to support the determination of paternity, assuming potential birth fathers are still alive.

File a Complaint to Establish Paternity Morristown NJ LawyersMany across the country and world face the unsettling reality of not knowing who one’s birth father is. In the absence of the information on a birth certificate, and with key involved persons out of reach or deceased, learning one’s heritage and unlocking a key to your past and potential future can be a difficult and emotional path. New Jersey, however, does have measures in place to support the determination of paternity, assuming potential birth fathers are still alive.

According to New Jersey law, a person seeking to determine who their birth father is may file a Complaint to Establish Paternity, and the New Jersey Parentage Act, N.J.S.A. 9:17-38 et seq., provides the procedure by which paternity may be established.

According to the New Jersey Parentage Act, there is a 23-year statute of limitations, which means that a child must file a Complaint to Establish Paternity by their 23rd year, which is five years after the child is legally an adult. As such, either a parent can seek a Complaint to Establish Paternity on behalf of the child before they reach legal adulthood, or they may do so on their own after their 18th birthday or after they have been emancipated.

Exceptions in Complaints to Establish Paternity

There are some exceptions in which courts will allow a Complaint to Establish Paternity outside of the 23-year window given extenuating circumstances. One such exception was highlighted in the New Jersey Supreme Court case R.A.C. v. P.J.S., Jr., 192 NJ 81 (2007). In this case, the man married to the child’s mother who had been led to believe he was the father, and with whom the child had grown up, filed an action against the alleged biological father to reimburse child support for the entirety of the child’s rearing. This reimbursement action was brought long past the statute of limitations when the child was now thirty years old.

Exceptions in Complaints to Establish PaternityIn this case, the trial court ruled that the child had a right to know his biological heritage. Upon appeal, the appellate court affirmed, noting that continuation of a claim made in the original Complaint would not strain familial relationships, and instead would create a closure that would settle outstanding obligations. Additionally, the appellate court noted that because the mother and biological father had hidden the truth from the mother’s husband, the plaintiff, the time limit set by the statute of limitations could be waived and the defense of a stale claim denied.

The New Jersey Supreme Court overturned this decision, noting that setting a precedent extending the 23-year statute of limitations, which was originally enacted in order to support the financial wellbeing of the child, would open a Pandora’s box of cases in which adulterous affairs led to the seeking of financial compensation by a wronged partner or the child long after the 23-year norm.

The case of R.A.C. v. P.J.S., Jr., took an interesting form because the son suffered from muscular dystrophy. Because this is a genetic disease, it is likely that both the trial court and the appellate court took into consideration that, even after the 23-year statute of limitations, having information about the genetic disposition of both parents could prove essential in family planning and other decisions moving forward. However, because the son was not a named plaintiff, and instead the non-biological father was, the New Jersey Supreme Court did not accept this as rational for waiving the statute of limitations.

What is the process for establishing paternity?

After a Complaint to Establish Paternity is filed, the process to establish paternity will commence within 90 days. The Office of Child Support and Paternity Programs (OCSPP) will begin genetic testing for all alleged fathers named. If a man’s genetic testing shows he is less than 95 percent likely to be the father, he can be omitted from the proceedings.

A person can voluntarily acknowledge they are the father before or after being found by genetic testing to have more than a 95 percent likelihood of parentage. They then sign a Certificate of Parentage, which will have the same effect as a court order of paternity. If they refuse to do so, the client may file a Complaint to Establish Paternity.

Contact our Morristown Paternity Attorneys Today

At Jacobs Berger, our paternity and parental rights attorneys understand that the issues of parentage and paternity are of the utmost importance to our clients.

Our attorneys strongly believe in offering personalized and step by step legal solutions for all our clients from local Morris County communities including Madison, Morristown, Randolph, Denville, Rockaway, East Hanover, Florham Park, Dover, and across all of Northern New Jersey.

If you have any questions or concerns about paternity as a parent, child, or caregiver, please contact us online or call our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 710-4366 today for a strategic planning session.

Contact Our Morristown Attorneys Today

At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys are experienced in protecting our clients across Madison, Randolph, Tewksbury, Morristown, and the greater Morris County area in all family law-related issues.

To schedule a strategic planning session with one of our experienced team members regarding your particular case, please contact us online or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 354-4506.