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Do paternal rights depend on marital status?

Although an increasing number of courts in New Jersey and across the country acknowledge the importance of a father’s presence in parenting, such paternal rights might be affected by marital status. 

With confirmation of paternity, readers may have assumed that visitation rights would naturally follow. The assumption seems logical, since unmarried fathers might still be responsible for child support payments. Indeed, a paternity action is one way that a father can legally establish that he is a child’s biological parent. Would it be fair to deny unmarried fathers parenting time based on their non-marital status, while simultaneously requiring their financial support?

The question is particularly timely, as the number of unmarried fathers seeking paternity rights may be growing. In one high-profile case, a judge denied Hollywood actor Jason Patric any paternal rights over his four-year-old son, who had been conceived by in-vitro fertilization.

Notably, paternity suits can be filed by a variety of individuals. A father seeking visitation rights, like Jason Patric, is only one example. Mothers may also file paternity suits for the purpose of obtaining child support. Even a state or local governmental entity might file a paternity suit, perhaps for the purpose of seeking financial reimbursement for certain publicly provided services on a child’s behalf.

Depending on the purpose of the paternity suit, a father may wish to save time by simply agreeing to paternity. Otherwise, it is usually established by DNA testing. From that point, child support may be calculated based on local guidelines. The particulars of the visitation arrangement, however, are not so formulaic. A court may consider many factors, similar to how child custody determinations are made in divorce cases. For that reason, it is advisable to consult with an attorney in preparing the best possible argument.

Source: Slate.com, "Dad's Day in Court," Hanna Rosin, May 13, 2014

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