Father's Rights in Teen Pregnancy
By Mary Krane Derr
Updated July 21, 2017
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In the United States, about 750,000 women under 20 years become pregnant every year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, meaning that about 750,000 men also are involved in teen pregnancies. Laws pertaining to fathers' rights vary by state, but all states do recognize them to some degree.
U.S. law defines the decision to end a pregnancy as the pregnant woman's. In most states, pregnant teens under 18 need to get parental consent for an abortion or notify their parents about it. However, men involved in teen or any other pregnancies do not have any legally recognized say in whether those pregnancies continue or end. Yet many women's pregnancy decisions actually hinge on whether or not they believe their male partners want the pregnancy to go to term.
Establishment of paternity--legal recognition as the child’s father—affirms the father's unique, important role in the child’s life and helps him exercise his parental rights and responsibilities. It provides the child with a more complete medical history and sometimes gives access to financial benefits like Social Security. Paternity is usually established after birth, through a DNA test or a legal document called the Acknowledgment of Paternity. A father who is married to or recently divorced from the child’s mother, might not need to establish paternity, reports the American Pregnancy Association.
Read More: Laws on False Paternity
After most teen births, the mother and less frequently both parents or the father alone raise the child. Fathers married to their chiildren's mothers often can more readily exercise their parental rights than unmarried fathers. An unmarried father, especially one without custody, likely has rights and responsibilities concerning custody, visitation and child support. However, an unmarried father will need to take legal action to obtain these rights and carry out responsibilities.
Adoption of a child born to a teenage mother poses some concerns for birth fathers, especially unmarried ones. Most states intend to secure both birth parents' consent to an adoption, or enable the birth father to parent the child if he so chooses. However, the degree to which states try to identify birth fathers and notify them about and include them in any adoption proceedings varies from state to state. Most states do offer registries for "putative fathers," or men who believe they have conceived children outside of marriage and wish to be notified about any adoption proceedings. These registries are little publicized and do not communicate across state lines. An unmarried birth father can best protect his parental rights by keeping open lines of communication with the baby's mother and offering her support, beginning when he finds out she is pregnant, according to the Adoption Institute website.
Guardianship occurs when a court grants an adult caregiver--often a relative like a grandparent--the right to make major life decisions for a child. Guardianship differs from adoption because it is not for a lifetime, and the child's mother and father keep their parental rights. Many teen fathers as well as mothers feel unable to properly care for their children at the present time, yet hope and plan to in the future. For many families, guardianship might be beneficial to all parties involved in a teen pregnancy.
Since 2000, Mary Krane Derr has written freelance for publications ranging from the medical journal "Allergy and Clinical Immunology International" to "The Polish American Encyclopedia." She holds a Master of Arts in social work from the University of Chicago and a Bachelor of Arts in biology from Bryn Mawr College.