Custody Rights for Unmarried Parents

In New Jersey, the custody rights of a parent are the same regardless of whether or not the parents are married. In determining who is awarded custody, in the event the parties cannot reach an agreement on their own, the Court will review and weigh the following factors:

1)the parents' ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child; 2)the parents' willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse; 3)the interaction and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings; 4)the history of domestic violence, if any; 5) the safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent; 6)the preference of the child when of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision ; 7)the needs of the child; 8)the stability of the home environment offered; 9)the quality and continuity of the child's education; 10)the fitness of the parents; 11)the geographical proximity of the parents' homes; 12)the extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to the separation; 13)the parents' employment responsibilities; and 14)the age and number of the children.

It is important to first establish paternal rights, if necessary. Paternity can be established either by both parties agreeing and identifying the father, with him accepting the role and responsibility as father of the child, or alternatively, if there is a dispute, by a DNA test.

There are two different types of custody, legal custody, and physical custody. Legal custody is decision making authority, and physical custody is where the child resides. Both types of custody pertain to both married and unmarried couples, and can be either sole or joint. Unmarried parents also have the same rights to seek child support as divorced parents do. Child support is for the benefit of the child, and is contingent upon numerous factors, however the marriage of parents is not one of those factors.

What is in the best interest of the child always prevails, regardless of whether the child's parents are married or not.