How Can Paternity Be Challenged?
By Snyder & Sarno on April 01, 2015
In cases where parties are not married, there are often issues of paternity when one parent seeks custody or child support from the other. In the recent unpublished Appellate Division case of Reed v. Pettiford, the court addressed a custody dispute between a maternal grandmother and a father.
In Reed, after the child’s mother died, the father and the maternal grandmother were given joint legal custody. The child lived primarily with the father and would visit with the grandmother every other weekend. As the child got older, extracurricular activities often conflicted with the grandmother’s visits. Increasingly, the parties argued. The grandmother often took action without informing the father, such as bringing the child to the doctor to receive a flu shot without telling the father. The grandmother eventually disputed the father’s custody of the child and argued that she should be given sole custody of the child. In particular, she contested paternity.
On appeal, the Appellate Division only addressed the grandmother’s contention disputing paternity. The court noted that N.J.S.A. 9:17-38-59, the New Jersey Parentage Act, governs paternity. The court also stated that the Parentage Act was created to preserve the rights of parents and children and to establish procedures for establishing paternity. Fazilat v. Feldstein, 180 N.J. 74, 82 (2004). The court noted that under the Act there was a presumption that the child’s father was in fact the child’s father because he provided him support and held him out as his child.
Rule 5:14 establishes the procedure that must be followed when contesting paternity. Specifically, a party contesting paternity must file a complaint with the court for that issue to be considered by a court. In this case, the grandmother failed to file any such complaint contesting the father’s paternity.
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