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New Genetic Testing Bill Could Tranform New Jersey Paternity Disputes

Posted by Matt Rooney | Mar 02, 2012 | 0 Comments

A common dispute in New Jersey family court is over “paternity” – simply put, determining “who is the child's father.” Without this knowledge, it's difficult for a family judge to decide critical issues of custody and support. But are these emotional-charged cases about to become a thing of the past? One New Jersey legislator wants to entirely eliminate the need for such suits. Assemblyman Gilbert Wilson, a representative from Camden County, is proposing a bill (designated “A2609”) that, if enacted and signed into law, would mandate genetic testing at every birth in the Garden State with the goal of identifying the father of every child from day one… Details from The Star-Ledger: Under the measure (A2609) unveiled by Assemblyman Gilbert Wilson, doctors or midwives — or whoever delivers the baby — would be responsible for conducting the tests at the expense of patients or their insurers.

While Wilson said the measure applies to mothers and fathers alike, “mostly this should be geared towards the father because with the mother, of course, there is no doubt.” The problem is not limited to guests on angst-ridden television talk shows, said Wilson, a Democrat from Camden County who goes by the nickname Whip. “I've heard different stories about fathers who are raising children and paying support for a child and come to find out years later that it wasn't their child,” he said. “It's a devastating thing to find out.” Wilson said the bill would allow men who turn out not be a child's father to seek reimbursement for support or other expenses they have incurred raising the child. It's interesting to note that Assemblyman Wilson's bill would also “allow men who turn out not be a child's father to seek reimbursement for support or other expenses they have incurred raising the child.” The effects of such legislation could be far-reaching and profound. Presently, a legally-recognized father who later discovers he is actually not the biological father is typically, may be out of luck from a financial perspective. Any support contributions he may've made as the non-custodial parent are generally unrecoverable. Furthermore, the burden is on the legal (but not biological) father to raise the issue and move to disestablish paternity by petitioning the Superior Court for a paternity test. This can be an expensive problem for all parties and the taxpayers, too!

However, after a certain indefinite period of time, the non-biological father becomes a so-called “psychological parent” and, as such, is held to be just as responsible for the child in question as a biological father regardless of the results of a parenity test. And how is THAT possible? Public policy favors (1) holding parents accountable for their child-related decisions, and (2) providing stability for these children. A 2009 unpublished decision from the New Jersey Appellate Division addressed these very issues. In the case, Qian v. Wang, the Court held that a father was properly found to be a “psychological” parent by the trial court after he raised the child for more than a decade as his own and allowed both mother and the child to become economically dependent on him. Significantly, the court noted how the father failed to challenge paternity earlier in the child's life when suspicions initially surfaced in his mind. Indeed, the stakes are very high when paternity is at issue in your case. There's no telling at this point whether Assemblyman Wilson's bill will ultimately become law; even if it does, it's ramifications are not fully clear at this early stage. Moreover, “psychological parent” doctrine is extremely complex, controversial, but nevertheless likely to persist, in some form or another, as a real force in New Jersey family law. Don't take a chance and proceed with insufficient knowledge when your children or resources (or both) are on the line before a New Jersey family court. If you or a loved one has questions regarding paternity or child support, click here to contact the family law lawyers at DeMichele & DeMichele today. You can also reach us at (856) 546-1350 to schedule a confidential consultation with one of our attorneys.  

About the Author

Matt Rooney

Practice Areas: Family Law (including Divorce, Alimony, Child Support, and Domestic Violence); Municipal Court; Personal Injury; Residential Real Estate; Civil Litigation; Collections.


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