New Jersey Child Custody and Child Support Attorney for Unmarried Couples
ENFORCE THE OTHER PARENT’S OBLIGATIONS, OR MODIFY A CUSTODY OR SUPPORT AWARD, OUR ATTORNEYS ARE HERE TO HELP. OUR OFFICES ARE LOCATED IN BERGEN COUNTY, NJ.
For unmarried parents, child support and child custody matters present many important and unique challenges. Whether you need to establish your parental rights with respect to a newborn child, or you are leaving a long-term nonmarital relationship and have minor children, ensuring that you can stay involved in your children’s lives is understandably high on your list of priorities.
Located in southern Bergen County, we have particular experience working with high-net-worth clients who commute across the river into New York City. With decades of family law experience, our legal team attuned to the often-complex issues facing unmarried parents, and we are committed to providing the caring, compassionate, and personalized representation our clients expect and deserve.
Establishing Parentage in New Jersey
As an unmarried father, before you can obtain custody or parenting time with your child, you should establish you are the biological father of the child. There are several ways to do this in New Jersey. You and the unmarried mother of the child can fill out a Certificate of Parentage at the time of the child’s birth. Then, your name will be placed on the birth certificate.
If you and your child’s other parent did not complete a Certificate of Parentage, there are other ways to establish paternity. As co-parents, you can agree you are the father, or you can agree to take a genetic test. If there is a disagreement, either parent can take the other to court and ask the judge to require you or the other party to submit to genetic testing.
Child Custody Arrangements for Unmarried Parents
In custody matters, the New Jersey courts assess numerous factors to determine what is in the best interest of the child. Both parents have equal rights to legal custody and physical custody of their child. A judge will not assume a child’s mother is more equipped to parent full time than a father.
While the parents’ wishes and those of the child (once they reach “sufficient age and capacity to reason”) are relevant to custody decisions, neither is determinative in reaching a child custody award. New Jersey custody laws require the family court to determine what is in the best interests of the child first, then order an arrangement that supports the child’s welfare. This often leads to a joint custody arrangement but can lead to sole custody, as well.
Calculating Child Support in New Jersey
Child support matters, on the other hand, usually are determined by calculating and applying the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines, although there are exceptions where the Guidelines may be inapplicable. What is critical in any matter, is ensuring that any child support calculation is done correctly, using the appropriate incomes (or imputed incomes) and financial circumstances of the parties. If you are concerned the other parent is not being honest about their income, which would impact child support calculations, talk with your attorney right away. Usually, the attorneys can and will calculate child support for you and attempt to have the other side agree. If an agreement cannot be reached, then, of course, either party may seek the assistance of a Judge.
Reaching an Amicable Decision Between Unmarried Parents
While litigation is always a possibility, it might be wise to first try to resolve differences without the Court’s involvement. There are a number of strategies for negotiating parenting arrangements and financial support obligations. Parents who commit themselves to the process can often save significant time and money while limiting the stress placed on themselves and their children. At Men’s & Fathers’ Rights Divorce Lawyers by Schultz & Associates, LLC, we emphasize pursuing amicable, yet cost-effective solutions. We work closely with our clients to secure their desired rights as quickly as possible.
Enforcing Child Custody or Child Support Awards
If you have existing child custody or child support order, and your co-parent is failing to meet his or her obligations, our family lawyers can assist you in enforcing the terms of the court order. Parents have several remedies available when their co-parents violate custody and support orders, and our attorneys can take swift and aggressive action to protect your legal rights. We may be able to seek garnishment of the other parent’s salary or wages, enjoin the parent from relocating your child out of state, or take other legal action to enforce the terms of your parenting plan or child support payment schedule, just as some examples.
Modifying a Child Custody or Child Support Court Order
If you are unable to make your child support payments, or your current custody arrangement no longer works for you or the child, for whatever reason, our attorneys can assist you in seeking an order for modification. The New Jersey family law courts will only grant modifications if you have a significant change in circumstances. Our attorneys are experienced in demonstrating that events in our clients’ personal and professional lives may warrant revisiting their original custody and support orders. If your former partner has filed a request for modification, we can represent you in seeking to preserve your existing rights, or modify it to something else you may want, as well.
Non-Dissolution Proceedings for Non-Married Parents
New Jersey Family Law Attorneys can guide you through child custody, visitation, and child support matters even if you are not married. This is called non-dissolution proceedings and happens under the “FD” Docket in the New Jersey Courthouse.
Unmarried parents are no less dedicated to their children than married couples and of course, navigating parenthood, if there are two different households, presents unique challenges. But, of course, nowadays, there are plenty of people living together with children and simply deciding to not get married officially.
If you have a child with another person and are not married, but the relationship has in fact ended, you and your child’s other parent have to figure out how to divide your child’s time, make sure your child has everything they need, and share the financial responsibilities equitably.
The age of your child doesn’t matter. You and the other parent have to eventually come to an understanding as to the custody and visitation arrangement–and be willing to put that down in detail on paper and sign it. You both also have to discuss the appropriate amount of child support, which is dependent, in part, on the visitation schedule. A lot of times, especially just when the relationship ends, you and the other parent are at odds over almost everything.
At Men’s & Fathers’ Rights Divorce Lawyers by Schultz & Associates, LLC, we are experienced in representing unmarried parents in paternity, child custody, visitation, and child support matters in New Jersey’s non-dissolution, or FD proceedings.
What Are Non-Dissolution Proceedings?
Non-dissolution proceedings are part of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part. Non-dissolution proceedings, which are docketed as “FD,” are family law matters for co-parents who are not getting a divorce (divorce is a dissolution of marriage). Usually, co-parents who were never married find themselves in “FD” proceedings to determine child custody, parenting time (visitation), and child support.
In some circumstances, individuals who are still married and have not yet filed for divorce will go through non-dissolution proceedings just to seek temporary financial support. Also, adult siblings and grandparents can file non-dissolution cases for custody, visitation, or child support.
Family Law Issues Handled in FD Proceedings
Fathers have rights and responsibilities toward their children, just like mothers. But their natural and legal connection to a child is less obvious. We help fathers establish their relationship with their children through legal proceedings and genetic testing – or DNA testing. If your name isn’t already on the child’s birth certificate – or even if it is, but you question whether or not you are the father – then we must (and will want to) request a DNA test before you obligate yourself to a child support order. The appropriate time to request a DNA test is early on in the case; if you do not request one, it can be perceived as if you admitted by your silence that you are the other parent and therefore obligated to that child financially. So, it is very important that if you question at all whether or not you are the father, find out by doing a DNA test immediately. If the other parent is uncooperative to getting tested, then speak to an attorney about having the Judge Order a DNA test.
Physical Child Custody – Residential Custody & Visitation
Unmarried parents often disagree on the best custody arrangement for their child. Fathers, in particular, are afraid of being given too little time with their children and especially when the Mother is withholding the visitation for no legitimate reason. When you and your co-parent can’t agree, then a judge will ultimately determine a physical custody and parenting time arrangement that’s in the best interests of the child. But, most times, attorneys can help have this conversation before a court ever gets involved and try to work out a mutually acceptable arrangement between you and the other parent. We will then put it down in an Agreement for both parties to sign.
Legal Child Custody
Legal custody of a child refers to which parent can make significant and major decisions for the child, including concerning their health, education, and general welfare. Custody arrangements are always governed by the best interest of the child. However, with legal custody (vs. residential custody), both parties must show that they can somewhat effectively co-parent with one another. When one parent cannot co-parent with the other, then perhaps a joint legal custody arrangement won’t work and an alternative arrangement will need to be discussed. Oftentimes we see this with the parties not being able to communicate or one parent completely deleting the other parent from the child’s life. Doing that may be grounds for that parent to loose legal custody. The particular behaviors of you and the other parent are important and you should discuss this in detail with your attorney.
Child support is a separate legal matter from child custody or visitation, although both ultimately impact the amount of child support. For most people, New Jersey Child Support is determined based on a calculator called the New Jersey Child Support Guideline Worksheet. This Worksheet is based upon a statutory criterion, which considers the number of children, the number of overnights (or 12-hour periods for each parent), the gross incomes of each parent, alimony, health insurance, childcare, and other factors. An experienced family law attorney makes sure the calculation is accurate. Most people, including some court staff, get this wrong and it would be a shame to be paying too much simply because you didn’t have an experienced attorney review it. Also, just because the other parent may not be earning an income, or earning under what they used to or are capable of, doesn’t necessarily mean that is the end of the conversation. Discuss with your attorney a legal concept called “imputation of income”– which could apply to both you and the other parent depending.
Don’t Expect to See a Judge Right Away
To reduce the burden on the courts, you might be required to go through mediation or a settlement conference first. Mediation is a confidential, out-of-court process during which you and your co-parent will attempt to negotiate parenting time and other issues. A settlement conference is similar, but most times it includes the lawyers doing the negotiation with or without the mediator being included.
Other Issues Handled in FD Proceedings
While most FD proceedings deal with custody, visitation, and child support, you might bring other disputes there, such as the enforcement of non-marital financial support agreements and dividing property purchased during cohabitation. If you have a financial conflict with a previous romantic partner, talk with our family law attorneys about how to proceed.
Non-Dissolution Matters Are Assumed to Be Simple, Quick
An issue that arises under the FD Docket in New Jersey is considered to proceed in a summary fashion. This means, that they are matters that are generally more straightforward and could be handled more quickly without in-depth investigations or hearings. But, some FD cases are just as contentious as a divorce case. If your matter isn’t straightforward, then it’s critical you work with a New Jersey family law attorney who will mark your non-dissolution action as complex. This way, the court is told right away that your matter needs more attention, such as discovery, experts, and oral arguments.
When You Won’t File a Non-Dissolution Case
You should not file your matter on the non-dissolution docket if:
- You are divorced or have filed for divorce.
- You want to appeal a court decision.
Talk to an Experienced Family Law Attorney in Bergen County, NJ
If you would like to speak with an attorney about your situation, contact Men’s & Fathers’ Rights Divorce Lawyers by Schultz & Associates, LLC. Our law offices offer an initial consultation, during which we will help you understand your situation and options for securing the support, custody, or visitation rights you desire. To schedule an appointment at our offices in Bergen County, New Jersey, please call 201-552-3394 or submit our online contact form today.