State courts can now compel genetic testing to determine paternity without first considering the welfare of the children involved, the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled. A man who has doubts about whether or not he is a child’s father can now request DNA testing, as long as he has a “reasonable basis” for doing so.
This decision is a departure from the previous standard in New Jersey. For the last twenty years, the child’s best interest was considered first and foremost before a judge could order a paternity test to determine what role the father had to play in the child’s life, New Jersey family attorneys report. A “best-interests” standard is involved in most laws that encompass children and families, but in cases involving genetic testing, “some destabilization of the child’s life is inevitable,” Justice Barry Albin wrote.
In his opinion for the court, Albin set forth guidelines for determining whether the father seeking genetic testing has reasonable cause – such as how long the man has believed himself to be child’s father, how he came to the conclusion that he may not be the child’s birth father, and the child’s age and interest in the issue of paternity. The court examined two separate amendments from 1994 and 1998 that further defined the language of the “reasonable basis” standard. These amendments had previously limited the court’s ability to deny paternity tests – a father can be denied testing only for “good cause.” This year, the New Jersey Supreme Court has adapted guidelines to determine what constitutes “good cause” in a majority vote.
The new guidelines for determining whether or not to grant genetic testing stem from a divorce case from early 2006, D.W. v. R.W., when the wife, D.W. admitted to infidelity around the time the divorcing couple’s son was born. R.W., the husband, asked the courts for a paternity test, and demanded that his wife reimburse him for the money he spent raising their son. The courts ruled that a paternity test was not in the son’s best interest, and denied the request for genetic testing. In light of the new guidelines, the courts will revisit R.W.’s request, New Jersey family attorneys say.
Paternity determination plays a significant role in divorce cases, alimony payments, and custody agreements, and genetic testing can provide hard-and-fast evidence for fathers in question. Under the new guidelines, a father’s legal right to question paternity is protected. The experienced New Jersey family attorneys at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman can help any father who has doubts about paternity to weigh his options and exercise his full legal rights if necessary.