Becoming a father is never easy. The responsibilities are endless and cannot be ignored.
Becoming an unwed father is even more difficult still, coming with its own set of obstacles, problems and issues to cope with. Chief among them are issues concerning child support and child custody. Even unwed parents who go into their relationship with the best of intentions can find themselves dealing with legal issues they did not foresee. This is especially true for fathers.
Here are five things unwed fathers need to know:
If your child’s mother files for government assistance – food stamps, etc. – you will be pursued for child support by the state, even if the mother does not want to pursue it.
A big surprise for many fathers is that the government can begin action against you for child support, whether or not the mother of your child has asked for it. If and when she applies for government assistance, she must disclose the father of her child. If she refuses, her application can be denied. Once the state had identified you as the father, it will work to ensure you are providing support for the child as well.
Signing a birth certificate does not legally mean you are asserting your rights as a father
A common myth is that signing your child’s birth certificate means you have asserted your parents rights as a father. An unwed father needs a court order to assert his parental rights. In order to establish paternity and have it be recognized by the court, you must file an action.
Child support is unrelated to child custody or child visitation.
Regardless of your obligation to pay child support, and your presumed success in living up to your obligations, this has no bearing on your custody and/or visitation rights. They are two separate issues. In order to secure visitation or custody rights, it is recommended that you consult with a child custody attorney in New Jersey.
Having an informal agreement does not mean you won’t end up in court. Most couples who become litigants against one another had an agreement.
Many unwed couples, if not most of them, at some point had some kind of understanding or agreement when it comes to providing for their child. Good intentions are one thing. Reality is another. You may think that your relationship will keep the two of you out of court, but often enough issues arise that will force court intervention. That is why it’s important for fathers to legally establish paternity as early as possible.
You can get credit for financial support you provided your child prior to having been ordered to do so by the court.
If you had the foresight to maintain proper paperwork and documentation for the support you have given your child, you can petition the court to credit you for that support. There are no guarantees, and this part of the process will be helped greatly by having a NJ child support attorney assist you, but it’s an important fact for responsible fathers to keep in mind.