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The Two of You Weren’t Seriously Dating, Yet You’re Having a Baby Together?

The pregnancy was unplanned. An extra surprise: You didn’t intend to have a baby with this person — ever — as you weren’t in a serious relationship. 

Yet the baby is coming. You’ll be linked to the other parent for years to come, especially if they’ll spend significant time with your child and help make decisions about parenting matters big and small.

If you’re arguing or have difficulty speaking to each other directly, mediation may be the right choice. A professional will guide you in a structured conversation so you can reach agreement about the things that matter. 

You’ll likely need to establish two major points: paternity and child support. 

Knowing whether you are — or will be — a legal parent

A pregnant person has the right to make choices about their own body and their healthcare, while the father has little say. During pregnancy, no one is yet considered a parent to the unborn baby (generally speaking), but you should plan ahead for how you’ll clarify your status as a parent once the baby is born.

Upon giving birth, the mother is automatically a legal parent. Her spouse (if any) is presumed to be the other parent, but this information can be corrected.

Action is needed to establish fatherhood for someone other than her spouse. The biological father may sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity, or the court may require a DNA test. Until then, a judge can’t include him in an order for custody, parenting time or child support. 

Sometimes, one biological parent’s spouse wants to adopt the child so both spouses can raise it together; this requires the other biological parent’s consent, as they would be giving up their own parental rights and responsibilities. Other times, the biological parents decide to place their
child for adoption through an agency. Establishing paternity ensures that adoption processes go smoothly.

Paternity can be a sensitive topic, and the process of establishing it may itself be something you can smooth out in mediation. In mediation, you could discuss whether you want a DNA test, whether state agencies might be involved (they typically are if you receive government assistance), and whether you expect to pursue a custody and parenting time case. 

Discussing child support

Depending on your state’s guidelines, the court may simply order a child support amount and you may not have significant room to negotiate.

Regardless, if you have a concern or an argument about the support amount, you may be able to address it in mediation. Even if the court won’t change the support amount, you and the other parent could think of other ways to resolve your financial concerns.

(If the court is providing the mediation services, check the rules for what you’re allowed to discuss. Sometimes finances are out of scope. Remember that you can privately hire a mediator if you want more freedom in your negotiation topics.)

A few tips for mediation:

  1. Bring recently updated financial statements. It’s helpful if the other parent brings theirs too.
  2. Parenting time is usually part of child support calculations, so if you expect to spend significant time with your child, calculate exactly how much and bring those numbers.
  3. Base your argument on these facts.
  4. Stay focused on what’s fair to your child, not what you’d prefer to pay or receive.
  5. Sometimes parents reach additional financial agreements, like who will pay tuition for private school or college. These agreements (if not part of their support order) may be included in a parenting plan or otherwise filed with the court.

You and your child’s other parent might have relatively few other financial matters to discuss, compared to people ending relationships who must decide when and how they’ll move out, divide assets and debt, and begin running separate households. So, if you have a child support argument, don’t hesitate to bring it to mediation (as long as the topic is allowed). Some family mediators handle child support disputes routinely and even specialize in it.

Plan for the future

As you have no romantic relationship with each other, you don’t need to rehash your shared past. But you’re going to be parents, so you do need to make a plan for your child.

Try to reach agreements early to avoid wasting time on conflict and uncertainty. You’ll feel more comfortable, and you can be a more responsible parent, when you can see the road ahead more clearly.


Tucker Lieberman

Tucker Lieberman studied philosophy at Brown University and journalism at Boston University. He's a writer and researcher for Custody X Change. He also reads nonfiction manuscripts for Split/Lip Press. MORE >

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