Unplanned Pregnancy…Who’s Responsibility Now?

Society’s values are constantly changing, and a visible shift has been noted regarding single parenting, as an increasing number of parents are opting to raise children without the aid of a second parent.  Also increasing is the number of unplanned pregnancies, and often, men and women do not take the same position when it comes to coping with said situations.  While it has been generally decided that it is ultimately the mother’s decision as to whether the child should be kept or aborted, it is questionable as to whether a man should have a say at all in whether one night in bed with someone results in a child.  If an unplanned pregnancy results from a relationship, no matter the length of it, and the woman utilizes her legal rights and decides to keep the child, should the father be held responsible for the child, even if he voiced his disagreement with the mother’s decision to keep the child? 

            Child support payments are an increasing phenomenon in light of these recent social changes, typically with men who have fathered children but have neglected to raise them being asked to pay monthly payments to the mother of the child to help cover expenses for the child.  Child support may be ordered of any legal parent who has not officially relinquished his or her parental rights, and may be ordered even if the parent in question did not want the child and/or has no physical contact with the child.  Unless the parent has legally given up any and all parental rights (an action that the court and the other parent would both have to approve), he or she can still be ordered by the court to pay child support.  If a parent fails to pay the child support ordered of him or her by the court, various punishments could be enacted, such as loss of driver’s license, having wages or tax returns garnished, or even facing jail time. 

In 2009, among 13.7 million custodial parents in the United States, approximately 50.6% had some type of child support agreements in place, with 90.0% of these child support agreements being formal agreements that were established in a court or through a government agency.  Approximately 35.1 billion dollars in child support was owed during 2009, but among the 6.9 million custodial single parents who were awarded child support, only 41.2% received all that was due.  With more and more parents being asked to pay a portion of their income to support their child, is it fair to ask fathers who did not even want the child to pay such a large fee? 

In a practical world, it would be hard to enforce the idea that a man who did not really want a child would be free from even fiscal responsibility (child support) of the child, as many deadbeat dads would surely step forward and claim that they should be free from child support payments as they didn’t support the birth of the child initially (in retrospect).  In addition, many advocates of child support claim, “if you play, you must pay”.  But if a man clearly states his disagreement with the woman’s decision to keep the child rather than proceed with an abortion, at the initial discovery of the pregnancy, is it fair to hold him responsible for monthly payments for the next eighteen years of his life?  Some claim that fatherhood is not about a moment but about being there for a lifetime of a child, so is being forced to pay child support fair for someone who rejected the claim of responsibility of fatherhood from the start? 

If we want to make a father’s role more relevant, and make steps toward responsible fatherhood, then they too need rights.  Even though these issues are difficult, so is family life.  It is better to deal with the metaphorical dirty diapers than to pursue an inconsistent policy toward fatherhood and an abortion debate that fails to acknowledge the reality of all that is involved with being a father.  While it is difficult to come up with a sound solution for this problem, therefore figuring out how to differentiate between those who actually disagree with a woman’s decision to keep a child from the start from those who are irresponsible in a variety of manners and leave the mothers in difficult situations, there need to be more abortion rights targeted towards fathers.  If a women is granted the legal right to determine whether she proceeds with an abortion or not, a man should be able to have a say in whether this decision is one he supports or not.  Men should not be held fiscally responsible for a child they never were given the right to say they did not want. In order to move toward a healthier future regarding family lives, rights need to be legalized for not one, but both parents. 

 

HELPFUL LINKS:

 

1.http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/roiphe/2012/06/unexpected_pregnancy_should_a_man_be_responsible_for_supporting_a_baby_he_didn_t_want_.html

 

2.http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/01/opinion/01conley.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

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3 thoughts on “Unplanned Pregnancy…Who’s Responsibility Now?

  1. I appreciated reading this post because I believe it raises important issues arising in the legal system today as technology improves and social norms evolve. I want to eventually practice family law and so I find the questions you have raised here particularly intriguing and timely.

    I think in order to come to a sound conclusion on this issue one must have an opinion on certain foundational issues about legal responsibility, reproductive rights, roles within the family, etc.
    Rejecting the claim of responsibility and still being legally responsible are two very different things. I can make an analogy between this example and telling somebody a secret. Take for example I tell somebody a dangerous secret, knowing full and well that by telling that person a secret I am taking a chance that that person will share it or do something bad with it. If that secret ends up being shared and causes harm I cannot reject responsibility for that secret being made public because I was the first person to share it.

    The main difference between these two examples is that secrets are not living beings that are protected under the law and must be cared for by parents or guardians. Being a legal parent of a child, no matter how that child came into existence, means that you necessarily carry the responsibility of looking out for that child. Looking after children is a foundational aspect of our reality as humans, and although not every person decides to have children, when you do it is a burden and blessing you must carry.

  2. I agree with Monica’s comment that rejecting the claim of responsibility and being legally responsible are very different things. While I do think the opinion of men in this type of situation is important, ultimately it is the woman who must carry the child for nine months. It is the woman who in our society is given the responsibility of leaving work behind to raise her child. It is the woman who ultimately bears the most responsibility of having a child (in general, anyway. Of course there are always exceptions). In a way I think of this situation as a contract. When a man and woman engage in sexual intercourse, fully aware of what the outcome may be, they are entering into a contract. As any man engaging in sexual activity should know, it may possibly result in the creation of a child. If he did not wish to take the risk of having a child, he should not have had sex. So essentially the moment he engaged in sexual intercourse with a woman he symbolically entered into a contract stating he was fully aware of the risks he was taking and that certain responsibilities came with this should the risks come to fruition. And like with many contracts, he can get out of them for a price. That price is child support, and I believe that it is fair. (Also to point out, I think the same can be said for the case of a woman who has a child and then leaves it with the father. She too must pay to get out of the responsibility she took upon herself when entering into this contract.)

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