A Dad’s Rights
If you’ve just found out that your girlfriend or a girl you’ve been with is pregnant, you might be wondering what legal rights you have in the situation. Will you share custody or have regular visits with your child? Maybe she’s told you that she’s made an adoption plan, but you’re wondering – can she do that without you? Or she wants to have an abortion, but you’re not so sure – can you stop her?
Legally, what are the dad’s rights?
The specifics are a little different from state to state, so you’ll probably want to consult legal counsel. But there are some general guidelines.
If a pregnant woman is married, the courts assume the husband is the father of the baby. If the mother is not married, there is no legal presumption of paternity. The law doesn’t make any assumptions about who the father is, even if the mother is in a long-term dating relationship with a boyfriend. So paternity must be established. If an unwed father wants any legal rights, he has to establish paternity. And if the unwed mother wants the father to provide any financial child support, she has to establish his paternity.
How do you establish paternity? One way is for the father’s name to be on the baby’s birth certificate. How do you do that? The father is present at the birth of the baby and helps fill out the birth certificate forms, making sure his name is listed.
But what if the mother and father aren’t in a relationship anymore and she doesn’t want him at the birth? There’s still a way to establish paternity. Some states have something called a Putative Father Registry. Nebraska has a Biological Father Registry. This is a way for men to notify the state before a baby is even born, basically letting the state know he thinks he’s the father of a baby and wants to be notified or included in any decisions that affect custody of that child. You can look at this as a man staking his claim, declaring he intends to claim paternity of a child as soon as the baby is born. If a state has a Putative Father Registry, adoption agencies and the courts check that list before finalizing any adoptions.
If a father’s name isn’t on the birth certificate, most courts assume the father isn’t interested or doesn’t want to be involved. The Putative Father Registry, or Biological Father Registry, is a way for men to let the state know they do want to be involved. So if you’re a man and you think you’ve fathered a baby and want to be involved in that child’s life, it’s important that you get signed onto that registry as soon as you know about the pregnancy. This registry doesn’t establish paternity, but it is a step in that direction and helps protect the father’s rights. If your state doesn’t have a Putative Father Registry, then you can contact a family law attorney and ask about a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity form, which is another good first step in establishing paternity.
If the father’s name isn’t on the birth certificate, he can still establish paternity; it’s just a little more complicated. The father and baby will provide DNA to establish paternity. If the mother doesn’t want to cooperate, the man who wants to prove paternity will have to get a court order to get the DNA sample from the baby. A family law attorney can help with this. If you can’t afford an attorney, you can call your local Legal Aid Society and someone there can probably help you.
All of these steps can help a father be involved in the decision of whether or not to place a child for adoption and help a father get some level of custody. Once a man has indicated to the state that he wants to parent a child and doesn’t want to relinquish his parental rights, it’s very difficult – if not impossible – for a woman to place the baby for adoption without his permission.
What about abortion? If a man’s wife or girlfriend is pregnant and chooses to have an abortion, she does not legally have to get his consent. The United States Supreme Court has found laws requiring a spouse’s consent for abortion to be unconstitutional. The Supreme Court also found a law requiring the father to be notified about an abortion to be unconstitutional. If a man and woman do not agree on whether or not to have an abortion, only one choice can be made, and the Supreme Court reasoned that because a pregnancy affects the woman more, the final decision rests with her. So if the woman wants an abortion, the man doesn’t have the legal right to prevent her from doing so.
The decision to terminate a pregnancy can be a very emotional one, especially if your partner chooses abortion and you would’ve preferred to raise the baby. If you’re a man in that situation, we’re here to provide resources and to help you get the counseling and support you need. Please call us today to schedule an appointment.
If you think you’ve fathered a baby, and you want to be involved in raising your child, good for you! Many studies show that children with involved fathers (or father-figures) fare better in every way. As a father, you have rights and responsibilities. If you’re not married to the mother, establishing those rights and responsibilities is a bit more complicated, but not impossible. Talk to a family law attorney or contact your local Legal Aid Society to take the appropriate steps to establish paternity and gain parental rights.