Can a court order a person to take a paternity test? The short answer is – Yes.  Under the New Jersey Parentage Act of 1983, N.J.S.A. 9:17-38 to 59, any person with an interest recognized as justifiable by the court has standing to bring an action for the purpose of determining the existence or nonexistence of the parent and child relationship.  This type of action must be brought within 5 years after the child’s 18th birthday or by 23 years old.  That is, unless there is a justifiable reason for tolling.

In a recent New Jersey unpublished Appellate Division case, R.C. v. L.L., A-3057-08T1, decided December 11, 2009, the Appellate Division affirmed a Monmouth county trial court’s dismissal of a complaint by a 51 year old man against his estranged father to determine a parent/child relationship. RC was born in Germany to an unwed German mother in 1956. RC’s mother had told him when he was a teenager that his father was an American soldier that had been stationed in Germany. In 1987, RC made efforts to find his father to no avail. Finally, in 2006 he was able to contact his alleged father, LL. Although at the time LL agreed to take a paternity test, he subsequently changed his mind. Finally in October 2008, RC filed a complaint seeking among other things an adjudication of LL’s paternity. LL filed and was granted an application for summary judgment dismissing the case. RC appealed the trial court’s order. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s decision and upheld the dismissal, finding that the complaint had been filed 28 years beyond the statute of limitations and allowing it to proceed was unfair.

RC may have won on appeal, if the Appellate Division found that the case demonstrated an “extraordinary circumstance.” In R.A.C. v. P.J.S., Jr., 192 N.J. 81, 95 (2007), the court gave the example of an adult child desiring to know if a parent’s family member carries a “muscular dystrophy gene.” That “might” establish an “extraordinary circumstance” by asserting a need to confirm parentage and the risk of passing on that gene. Unfortunately for RC, his affidavit failed to cite any medical reason or condition for seeking a paternity test. But had RC alleged a medical condition or necessity to know, the Court seemed to indicate it may be willing to order LL to take a paternity test.

For anyone who does not know the identity of their parent(s), the desire to know more information is a natural feeling. Unfortunately in New Jersey, if those feelings do not evolve early enough – before 23 years old – the opportunity may be missed, especially if that parent is unwilling to acknowledge or agree to a paternity test. While the personal interest of a child may be the driving force behind wanting to know the identity of a parent, the judicial system is concerned that without a statute of limitations in place, the search may result in “recriminations and intrusions.”

To learn more on this topic, the New Jersey child support website provides some helpful  information.