Monica Blizzard, a Director at KHQ Lawyers and an Accredited Family Law Specialist, discusses parties’ legal responsibilities in the event of unplanned parenthood.
What are a woman’s legal responsibilities if she has an unplanned pregnancy? What are her rights as a mother, and what are the obligations of the father, if he is unwilling?
If the woman knows who the father is and has advised him of the pregnancy, but he is unwilling to be an active parent, she still has options to pursue financial support. Section 67B of the Family Law Act (the Act), provides that a father of a child, who is not married to the mother, is liable to make a proper contribution towards the maintenance of the mother. Typically, this is limited to the period of two months leading up to the birth, or otherwise if the mother is unable to work during her pregnancy due to health concerns, this can be for a longer period.
The mother can also make a claim for reasonable medical expenses relating to the pregnancy and birth.
Once a healthy child is born, a further claim can be made for child support via the Child Support Agency for periodic financial support until the child attains the age of 18 years or completes their secondary education.
What does the expectant mother do if the father denies that he is the biological father?
If she genuinely believes that she knows the identity of the father, and she registers him accordingly on the birth certificate following the birth, then this gives rise to a presumption of parentage under the law. It would therefore be up to the father to seek to rebut the presumption of parentage via evidence.
Under the Act, an order can be sought for the parties to participate in a parentage testing procedure to identify the genetic parents of the child. In order to succeed with such an application there needs to be a genuine reason, and evidence which places the parentage of the child in doubt.
Once the child is born, what rights do both parents have in relation to the child?
When the child is born, both parents have at law, shared parental responsibility for the child. This means that they both have a right to make decisions in relation to any long-term aspects of that child’s care, welfare and development and typically includes decisions around health and medical treatment, religion, and education.
The law otherwise presumes that it is in the best interests of a child to have a meaningful relationship with both parents. This means that even if the father was unwilling to engage in the child’s life initially, he could enter the child’s life as the child grows older and be able to spend significant time with that child, depending on the circumstances at that time.
In making parenting orders, the Court will take into consideration myriad factors including but not limited to the benefit of the child having a meaningful relationship with its parents, and the need to protect a child from psychological or physical harm, abuse or family violence. The court will also consider the extent to which each parent has fulfilled or failed to take the opportunity to participate in making decisions about the child, spend time with the child or communicate with the child.
Monica Blizzard is an Accredited Family Law Specialist with the Law Institute of Victoria, a trained mediator and collaborative lawyer, and has 20 years’ experience working in family law. She has extensive expertise in complex financial and property cases, and complicated parenting matters. As a practitioner, Monica has great empathy for her clients and is determined to achieve the best outcome, tailored to their specific needs. Contact Monica at [email protected]