Unmarried Dads Have Rights Too

60Dear Mr. Dad: My girlfriend is pregnant and we’re having some major relationship problems. I don’t think we’re going to make it. I’ve been very open about wanting to be a big part of our child’s life no matter what, but she has already started excluding me. She doesn’t tell me when her doctor visits are and refuses to take a labor and delivery class with me. I’m worried that she’ll keep excluding me after the baby arrives. What can I do? Do I have any rights here?

A: Over the years, I’ve interviewed a number of attorneys about this exact subject and many of them have told me the same thing: that dads—even if they’re not married to their child’s mother—have almost as many rights as mothers. But they almost always add that courts are generally more likely to enforce mothers’ rights than dads’.

Before you do anything else, I suggest that you talk with a lawyer. If you’re worried about the money, there are a lot of organizations that offer free or low-cost advice, as well as help filling out all the papers and getting them to the right places at the right time. It’s essential that you do this now: mistakes made in the early stages of a custody issue can lead to all sorts of problems later. Be aware that many legal clinics are reluctant to help fathers.

Once you’ve got that process started, take a few minutes and think about what may be going on in your soon-to-be-ex’s mind. To start with, all those pregnancy-related hormonal ups and downs can affect her behavior. Besides that, being a single mother isn’t easy and she’s probably concerned about making ends meet, daycare, where she’s going to live, and how she’s going to be able to raise a child by herself.

You have three goals: first, to show her that you understand what she’s going through; second, to show her that you really want to be involved in your child’s life; and third, to make sure that involvement actually becomes a reality. Something as simple as telling her that you’ll be available to care for the baby when she goes back to work (assuming that’s true)—will help you achieve all of those goals.

There’s also a fourth goal, although this one’s harder to accomplish: to educate her about the many ways your involvement will benefit the baby and the mom (besides providing support, which, of course, you’re legally and ethically obligated to do). For example, your involvement during the pregnancy reduces the risk that the baby will be born prematurely and that the mom will suffer from post-partum depression.

If the two of you can’t have a civil discussion—or at least a rational one—see if you can find someone you both trust to make your case.

Hopefully, her current, unreasonable attitude will turn out to be temporary. Once the baby is born and she has the time to recover, her thinking might be less guided by emotions and more by the desire to raise the child in the best possible conditions, that is, with the presence of a loving and supportive father.

If she doesn’t reach that conclusion on her own, talk to your lawyer about what you need to do to ensure that your rights (and your child’s) are protected. And don’t forget about your responsibilities. Putting money aside for your child (starting now) and documenting everything you do to fight for your right to see him or her will show a judge that you’re committed to being an involved dad.

How to Talk to Kids About Divorce


Samantha Rodman, author of How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce.
Topic:
Healthy, effective communication techniques for your changing family.
Issues: Types of divorcing families; initiating honest conversations where your children can express their thoughts; how emotions work; validate your children’s feelings, making them feel acknowledged and secure; differences between amicable, strained, and hostile divorces; strengthening and deepening your relationship with your kids.

When Violence is a Good Thing + Communication for Changing Families


Tim Larkin, co-author of How to Survive the Most Critical 5 Seconds of Your Life.
Topic:
The importance of using violence to defend against violence.
Issues: Antisocial vs. Asocial violence; when to engage; fight or flight; why you must learn to cause major injury; violence as the ultimate survival tool; overcoming the stigma of violence; the difference between competition-based martial arts and what you must do to survive; what to do when you don’t have a choice.


Samantha Rodman, author of How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce.
Topic:
Healthy, effective communication techniques for your changing family.
Issues: Types of divorcing families; initiating honest conversations where your children can express their thoughts; how emotions work; validate your children’s feelings, making them feel acknowledged and secure; differences between amicable, strained, and hostile divorces; strengthening and deepening your relationship with your kids.

Supporting Mr. New Guy

Dear Mr. Dad: I just heard that my ex-wife is moving in with her boyfriend. We’ve been divorced for nearly two years and she wasn’t cheating on me, but I’m furious. Plus, I’m worried about how this is going to affect my kids and my relationship with them. Why am I so upset, and what do you suggest that I do?

 A: Discovering that your former wife is having sex with someone else brings up a whole flurry of strong and sometimes-unexpected emotions, regardless of how long ago your marriage ended. Here’s what’s going on:

You’re confronting reality. When your ex moves in with someone else (or even starts actively dating), it’s hard to deny that your relationship with her has ended. It also ends any fantasies you may have had that the two of you will reconcile.

You’re curious. I think it’s basic human nature in these situations to wonder about the new guy. Love your ex or hate her, you’ll probably be curious about where the two of them go and what they do.

She may be moving in with the world’s biggest moron, and she may dump him and start dating moron number two next week, but none of that is any of your business and you can’t do anything about it anyway. (If she does start dating and the two of you are able to communicate civilly, gently encourage her not to introduce the kids and the boyfriend for a long while.)

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Interfaith Marriages: There Is Hope

Dear Mr. Dad: My husband and I are in a religiously mixed marriage. Before we had kids, it wasn’t an issue and we usually just did our own thing. But ever since our daughter was born, everything seems a lot more complicated. Each of us is committed to our own religion and to our marriage. How are we supposed to raise our children?

Well, there’s good news and bad. The good news is that you’re not alone. Before getting married, fewer than half of interfaith couples discuss the religious upbringing they plan to give their kids, and 80 percent say that having “the same values” is more important than having the same religion, according to Naomi Schaefer Riley, author of “’Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage Is Transforming America.” Interfaith marriages are getting more and more common. Back in the 1960s, only 19% of marriages were interfaith, according to a new Pew Research Center report. But among couples who married since 2010, 39% say their spouse is of a different religion (and 49% of cohabiting couples are in interfaith relationships).

The bad news is that, according to Schaefer Riley, interfaith couples are significantly less satisfied than same-faith couples, and that the more religiously active spouse is usually the unhappiest one.

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Small Steps Make a Blended Family

potted plant-smDear Mr. Dad: I’m engaged to an amazing man with a 9-year old son who’s with him every other weekend. When I first started going out with his father, the boy and I got along great. But the closer we get to the marriage, the worse things get between us. I’ve tried to talk with him about it, but he just screams at me that, “you’re not my mother!” and runs to his dad, whose usual response us to take his son’s side and spend more time with him. That leaves me feeling completely left out and unheard. I’m not trying to replace my fiancé’s son’s mother or interfere with his relationship with his dad. At the same time, I need more attention and understanding from my fiancé. How do I have these conversations?

A: The dynamic you’re describing is incredibly common, but that doesn’t make it any less unpleasant for anyone involved. Think about this from your boyfriend’s point of view: He’s trying to balance being there for you and being a good dad. Because he sees his son only every other weekend, he wants those precious days to be as conflict-free as possible, which may explain why he seems to be taking his son’s side over yours (although there really are no “sides” here). He may also be feeling guilty about not being able to be more involved, which may explain why his response to conflict is to spend more time with his son. Unfortunately, that leaves you out in the cold.
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