The New Jersey Court system has made it relatively easy to file a complaint for child support, whether under the dissolution (divorce) or non-dissolution (family matters for non-married litigants) docket. A litigant can seek and receive child support for a minor child without having to definitively prove paternity, so long as the father does not dispute paternity. Paternity tests are not automatically ordered by the Court. In a case where the parties are not married, many times the assumed father will sign a Certificate of Parentage, which is a sworn statement and legal document acknowledging paternity. In the case of a married couple, there is a rebuttable presumption that the husband is the father of the child.
As a result, a party who has been paying child support for a minor child for years could conceivably find himself in a position where he learns that the child is not biologically his. What recourse does jilted father have? If the father has signed a Certificate of Parentage, that acknowledgment cannot be rescinded after a support order has been established absent a showing of fraud, duress or mistake of fact. While one may want to logically argue that the new knowledge that the assumed father is actually not the father is a mistake of fact, therefore warranting reversal of support order, the Court may not agree. Instead the Court’s goal will be to act in the best interest of the child and the law dictates that it is in every child’s best interest to have a father and to have financial support. As such, absent exceptional circumstances (such as the actual biological father being available to step in and support the child), the chances of the Court letting the non-biological father who has acted as the child’s parent for years off the hook financially are slim. Further, if enough time has passed, a court may even determine that it is not in the child’s best interests to order a paternity test. Even slimmer are the non-biological parent’s chances of having his previously paid child support returned to him.
Child support is an obligation that spans many years and is not easy to extinguish. Therefore, it is in a potential father’s best interests to consult with an experienced family law attorney when faced with questions of paternity and child support. Posted by Robyn E. Ross, Esq.