Paternal Rights vs. Parental Rights in New Jersey

“Parental Rights” and “Paternal Rights” Might Sound Alike, But They Are Different! This Guide Will Clarify the Meaning of Each Term and the Crucial Differences

Paternal Rights vs. Parental Rights in New JerseyIf you’re navigating a child custody issue, you may have come across the terms “paternal rights” and “parental rights” and wondered what the difference is between these rights. Simply put, paternal rights are a type of parental right that specifically refer to those possessed by a father. In New Jersey, fathers and mothers have equal parental rights; however, due to the biological differences in how parentage is established, unmarried fathers often need to take additional steps to establish paternity and secure their parental rights.

What You Need to Know About PATERNAL Rights

Paternal rights are a father’s legal parental rights and responsibilities that impact issues like child custody, child support, and the ability to make various health and legal decisions for their child. These include decisions pertaining to the child’s religion and education, like choosing what school the child will attend, consenting to medical treatments, and determining what religious programs or activities the child will participate in.

In New Jersey, an unmarried father can voluntarily establish his paternity rights to a child by signing a Certificate of Parentage, along with the mother of the child, and filing this document with the New Jersey Department of Health.

A mother can also request a paternity test through DNA testing through the court system to establish a man’s paternity for her child. DNA testing can also be used to overcome the presumption that the mother’s husband is the father of the child or to correct a prior-filed Certificate of Parentage to show that the father listed is not, in fact, the biological father.

What You Need to Know About PARENTAL Rights

You can think of “parental rights” as an umbrella term, referring to the rights of a parent regardless of gender. Once parental rights are established, they are equally afforded to mothers and fathers alike unless the best interests of the child and/or specific circumstances warrant a different allocation of rights. A mother’s parental rights to a child she gives birth to are automatic regardless of her marital status, though they can be legally terminated under certain circumstances. However, the same is not true for an unmarried father.

When a couple is married, the parental rights of the husband to a child born from the wife are presumed under New Jersey law. However, this presumption can be overcome by evidence that another man is the child’s father. If the child’s parents are not married, then paternity must be legally established and not presumed.

Exploring the Impact of Parental Rights on Key Issues

Parental rights play a significant role in a parent’s ability to raise their children according to their values and belief system and even the ability to live with or spend time with their children. Child custody, child visitation, financial support, medical decisions, education choices, and religious upbringing are the key areas of a child’s life and the parent-child relationship that are greatly impacted by the status of a parent’s parental rights.

Custody Implications

Parental rights allow a parent to petition for custody of their child. Parents can have legal and physical custody over the child or legal custody only. An individual with parental rights to a child may have sole, joint, or partial custody. Parents with sole custody may have both sole legal and physical custody or full physical custody only and share legal custody with the other parent.

Why Parental Rights may be Limited

It is also possible that a parent may have parental rights to a child, but those rights could be limited by the court to serve the child’s best interests, leaving the parent without any custody rights to the child. Even if a parent loses all custody rights to a child, that does not necessarily mean they have lost all parental rights. The burden that must be met in order for a parent’s parental rights to be terminated completely is very high. Termination of parental rights is permanent. It is more common for a parent’s parental rights to be maintained but limited if necessary.

One way that a parent’s rights could be limited but not terminated is through a denial of physical custody over the child but an award of visitation. Visitation could be unsupervised or supervised if the child’s safety or well-being may be in question if they are with the parent alone. Supervised visitation might be awarded if there is a history of neglect, physical abuse, substance abuse, mental illness, or even an innocent physical disability that renders the parent incapable of safely looking after the child alone.

Affect on Decision-Making

Decoding Paternal vs. Parental Rights in Jersey City NJThrough legal custody of a child, a parent has the right to influence important decisions regarding the child’s medical decisions, like whether to undergo surgery, how to handle vaccinations, and other important medical decisions that require a parent’s consent. When parents with joint legal custody disagree on these decisions, it can lead to conflict that the parties must work out between themselves or, if they cannot agree, may need to seek action by the court. Like so many other issues that arise in co-parenting situations, this is a much less desirable option than resolving the dispute outside of court.

Finally, decisions regarding a child’s education and religious upbringing are also part of a parent’s legal custody rights. Therefore, if a parent does not have legal custody of a child but has visitation rights, they will not have the right to make decisions about where the child goes to school and if or where they worship.

Let our New Jersey Family Lawyers Address Your Issues with Paternal or Parental Rights in Hudson, Bergen, Passaic, and Essex County Areas

It can be really difficult to effectively navigate the court system and advocate for your child and your own parental rights without the help of a knowledgeable family lawyer. While representing yourself pro bono to protect your parental rights or establish parental rights is possible, not having trusted legal counsel can put you at a significant legal disadvantage. Our family law attorneys at Montanari Law Group can provide extensive legal advice specific to your circumstances and the facts of your case. We can guide you through all of your options and help you weigh the pros and cons of each potential course of action.

Most disputes over custody or paternity require involvement by the court to achieve resolution. Our custody and family lawyers team is skilled and knowledgeable in the courtroom and will help you resolve your issue confidently. We assist clients like you in courts throughout Northern New Jersey, including New Milford, Franklin Lakes, Wanaque, Little Falls, Montclair, Caldwell, Ridgewood, Millburn, Short Hills, and elsewhere in the surrounding Passaic County, Essex County, Hudson County, and Bergen County region.

For more information on how our team can help you with a paternal or parental rights matter, book a free consultation by filling out a request online to discuss your case. You can also call (973) 233-4396 to speak with one of our experienced custody lawyers today.


To speak with one of our highly knowledgeable attorneys, contact us today at (973)-233-4396 or toll-free at (888)-877-7985. You can also complete the form below to begin your conversation. We are a personalized, boutique-style law firm that offers free initial consultations and flexible appointment options.