What you expect when you’re expecting…. and you’re not married.
A friend of mine used to say, there is a reason why mother nature designed pregnancy to take 9 months – because you need time to get used the idea of being 100% responsible for a small person. Whether you’re the one giving birth or the other parent, it’s true. There is quite a learning curve and it can be unpredictable. From a legal standpoint, the rise of modern relationships can create unexpected legal predicaments for new parents. It’s estimated that 40% of babies born in the United States have unmarried parents. If you are having a baby and you’re not married, the legal rights and obligations can be even more uncertain. While there may be no real way to prepare for the sleep deprivation of being a new parent, here are some tips to make the transition to parenthood a little less uncertain.
1. If you’re not the one giving birth, by law, you can’t really assert any rights until the baby is born. By law, you can’t do much until the baby is born – but it is a fast learning curve when the baby is born, so in terms of getting educated, you never can start too early.
2. If you’re not the one giving birth, you are at risk of feeling a little left out, at least at first. In Washington, when a child is born from unwed parents who have not had a significant relationship history, as the birth parent, the mother is generally afforded a great deal of control until the father establishes and asserts his rights. For example, the mother may have control over where the baby lives, childcare, doctors’ appointments, vacations, and to some extent, the father’s access to the child. In that sense, the demands of a woman growing, carrying, and safely bringing a baby into the world are acknowledged under Washington law when a child is small. In determining the best interests of a child, King County courts understand the current research on what young children need to develop optimal psychological, social, emotional, and cognitive health. Of utmost importance to courts is creating safe and stable relationships for the child.
3. If you’re the one giving birth, you don’t have to put another person’s name on the birth certificate. For example, celebrity funny woman, Mindy Kaling, has said that she will not disclose the identity of her child’s biological father because she wants to be able to have that conversation with her child before the rest of the world knows. This is a personal decision and it may be a good idea to talk to a lawyer before the birth so that you can make an informed decision.
4. If you’re the one giving birth, you may want to make sure to support the other parent’s relationship. Studies show conflict between parents, particularly when it is witnessed by a child, can have negative impact on the child’s well-being. If the other parent decides to pursue parental rights, it could lead to a long-drawn out court battle, deep conflict, or resentment. This type of conflict leaves emotional scars that are not easily erased. It’s a good idea to sit down with a family law lawyer before the baby is born to come up with a game plan.
5. Are there financial consequences to becoming a parent? Oh yea. A legal parent can be ordered to pay child support and contribute to the needs of the child. Financial obligations can begin with fees incurred from the birth (i.e. hospital bills ) and go all the way through the cost of college.
If you are getting ready to become a parent and you are not married to the other parent, it’s probably a good idea to talk to a lawyer to find out the particular legal consequences of your situation before the baby is born so that you can be prepared and set expectations appropriately.
Monica Cary is a Seattle and Bellevue family law attorney with over 17 years of experience as well as a former King County Family Law Pro Tem Commissioner. Monica’s practice includes advising people about a prenuptial agreement, postnuptial agreement, estate planning, and family law. DuBois Cary Law Group, PLLC is a full-service woman-owned family law firm providing compassionate legal representation for Northwest Families with over 30 years of combined experience. Call us today at (206) 547-1486