An application has been made to this court to establish the paternity of a child born out of wedlock to one F and to grant reasonable visitation rights to the father.
Two vital questions of law are raised here which heretofore have been undecided in this State. They are whether the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court has jurisdiction to grant visitation rights not incidental to an order for support, and whether the father of a child born out of wedlock has any right to visitation without the express or implied consent of the mother.
In 1967 a child was born to F. For approximately one year prior to the child's birth the parties in this proceeding cohabited in New York, and either before or slightly after cohabitation commenced a private ritual of marriage was conducted without benefit of license or person authorized by the State of New York to solemnize the marriage. N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law, McKinney's Consol. Laws c. 14, § 11. The parties continued to live together as husband and wife, wore wedding rings and were a "family." The father demonstrated a strong interest in and actively cared for the child while the "family" remained together. In May 1969 defendant returned to the home of her parents with the desire to sever contact with
the bohemian style life she and plaintiff had been living. She was determined to escape the environment of her youthful indiscretions and make a fresh start with her child.
When the matter was heard the parties conceded that the child was born out of wedlock and that plaintiff is the natural father of the child. After conceding paternity it was urged by defendant that this court was without jurisdiction to grant visitation in the absence of a claim for support by defendant. With this contention I cannot agree.
The jurisdiction of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court is established by statute. N.J.S.A. 2A:4-18 states in pertinent part that
The juvenile and domestic relations court shall also have jurisdiction concurrently with such other courts as may have jurisdiction over the matter, to hear and determine in a summary manner disputes and complaints:
a. Involving the domestic relation or the welfare of children, as to which jurisdiction is vested in any court except the superior court or except with respect to the adoption of children or adults.
b. Involving matters of support or temporary custody of children as to which jurisdiction is vested in the superior court.
c. Involving violations of * * * chapter 6 and chapter 17 of Title 9, Children (§ 9:6-1 et seq., and § 9:17-1 et seq.) * * *
In exercising its jurisdiction the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court is charged with giving paramount consideration to the welfare of the children involved in the matter. See, e.g., State v. Monroe , 30 N.J. 160 (1959); D. v. D. , 56 N.J. Super. 357 (App. Div. 1959). While the scope of the subject matter jurisdiction of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court is restricted to the parameters established by statute, Amadeo v. Amadeo , 64 N.J. Super. 417 (App. Div. 1960); Tracey v. Tracey , 69 N.J. Super. 382 (App. Div. 1961), the exercise of that jurisdiction once obtained should be liberally construed so that the court may accomplish its purposes, Wilson v. Wilson , 86 N.J. Super. 61 (App. Div. 1965). Thus, if the statute furnishes some indication of a legislative intention to clothe the court with jurisdiction, an endeavor will be made to effectuate that intention though
the statute may not be free from doubt. Mattox v. Mattox , 43 N.J. Super. 111, 115 (App. Div. 1956). Cf. Lasasso v. Lasasso , 1 N.J. 324, 328 (1949), followed in Bonanno v. Bonanno , 4 N.J. 268, 273 (1950), holding that certain general statutory language conferred upon the court jurisdiction with respect to the support of the wife or children whether or not they are or will be a public charge.
In this case the father of the child seeks a declaration of paternity and visitation privileges. Clearly this court has jurisdiction to establish paternity in bastardy proceedings. N.J.S.A. 2A:4-18; N.J.S.A. 9:17-1 et seq. Cf. Borawick v. Barba , 7 N.J. 393 (1951); see also, R. 5:5-9. Furthermore, under N.J.S.A. 9:16-2 and 3 proceedings may be brought in this court by either parent to enforce the statutory duty of both parents to support and educate the child whether he be legitimate or not.
Defendant herein contends that paternity is not an issue since it has been conceded. The result of that concession is not as defendant insists; the concession alone should not be sufficient to deprive a court of jurisdiction in this matter. It is pointed out that had this complaint been brought before the Superior Court, defendant's denial of paternity would, by the same reasoning, deprive that court of jurisdiction. See Borawick v. Barba, supra. The jurisdiction of courts should not depend upon a defendant's concessions or denials but upon the substance of the legal relationships involved. The thrust of the complaint in this case is a petition for a declaration of paternity and a determination of the relationship between the father and his illegitimate child.
The father of an illegitimate child is charged by N.J.S.A. 9:16-2 with the duty to support and educate the child, and either parent can enforce in this court the obligations established by this section. N.J.S.A. 9:16-3. In fact, the father can obtain custody of the illegitimate child in this court. In re Guardianship of C. , 98 N.J. Super. 474 (J. & D.R. Ct. 1967). Therefore, it is apparent that the relationship between father and illegitimate child is a matter
generally cognizable in Juvenile and Domestic ...