Counseling for man involved in an unplanned pregnancy
October 12, 2012 7:40 AM   Subscribe

A friend of mine just found out that his ex-girlfriend is several weeks pregnant, very likely with his child. It's a very messy situation. He is panicked and doesn't know what to do. He needs guidance, but none of his friends are equipped to provide it to him. Who can he turn to?

Before he has further discussions with the mother, I feel the first step for him is to speak one-on-one with a professional, preferably male, who can give him impartial and non-judgmental advice about his situation, in terms of:

- How to approach options about the unexpected pregnancy
- How to handle disclosure
- What this means for his relationships with women
- Legal/financial issues (though maybe can be handled separately)

Who can provide this help? I am thinking maybe a social worker, psychologist, couples therapist, but don't really know who specializes in this stuff and whom to talk to.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
very likely with his child

If this is a situation where "his child" and "not his child" are two very different scenarios, then a paternity test is in order well before he starts seeing couples counselors and social workers.
posted by griphus at 7:45 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Realistically speaking, a paternity test isn't going to happen until after the baby is born.
posted by Oktober at 7:45 AM on October 12, 2012 [9 favorites]

I could have sworn they could do them during pregnancy, but if I'm wrong, mods go ahead and delete my answer.
posted by griphus at 7:47 AM on October 12, 2012

They can, but it involves a procedure that is invasive and can put the pregnancy at risk of miscarriage, so most people wait until after the birth.
posted by chiababe at 7:50 AM on October 12, 2012 [14 favorites]

There's really only one answer to #1, How to approach options about the unexpected pregnancy: "I support whatever decision you make. I'd prefer ___ myself, but this decision is yours to make. If you choose to keep this baby I'll accept all my responsibilities as a father."

It's not possible to even do a paternity test for a few more weeks, and it's much cheaper after birth, so whatever way you go you'll have to wait a bit on that.

Not sure what "disclosure" means.

What it means for relationships with women is being upfront about wherever the situation lands you in future. "I have a child with an old girlfriend. Our relationship is completely over, but I am in the kid's life and you should know that. Happy to talk about any questions you might have about that." It means that some women will find that too much to handle, particularly if they're younger, while others will really admire your forthrightness and intent to be a good parent.

It also means that you're coming hard up against the reality that this is one of the risks of having sex with women, even if you use birth control. That's not something you're likely to forget. It's always, always a possibility that a woman you sleep with could get pregnant, just by being one of the exceptions that is what we mean by a non-100% prevention rate for any form of birth control, and I imagine that may change the way you approach decisions about whom to sleep with, and when, in the future.

Legal/financial issues: well, it would probably be a good idea to consult with a lawyer if it looks as though the woman is going to carry to term, even if she's planning to pursue adoption.
posted by Miko at 7:51 AM on October 12, 2012 [25 favorites]

If he's in the US, I'd start with Planned Parenthood. They can likely point him at other helpful things.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:52 AM on October 12, 2012 [17 favorites]

Planned Parenthood, seconding.
posted by mareli at 7:53 AM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have no idea what you mean by "disclosure" and relationships with other women. Perhaps planned parenthood can be helpful re: discussing options.

Really, even if he schools himself on how to approach this (which is great), he has pretty much 0 control over the outcome. Given that reality, I think his priority should be to get a lawyer to advise him regarding paternity, custody and child support.

If she does decide to have the baby, after he deals with the legal issues, he needs to think about what role he is going to play in his child's life.
posted by murfed13 at 7:54 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

How old is your friend? Is he in college? Does his college offer psychological counseling? Where does he live? Answers to these questions will help us figure out how we can help him. For instance, in the US, if the kid is his, he will have to pay child support. For all I know, it's different in other countries.
posted by mareli at 7:57 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Who can provide this help? I am thinking maybe a social worker, psychologist, couples therapist, but don't really know who specializes in this stuff and whom to talk to.

What sensible adult does he know? A priest, rabbi or local community leader might be a good place to turn to. Even an old high school guidance counselor might help, even if he is not longer in high school. Planned Parenthood may be an option, though I'm don't know if they're what he specifically needs at this point.

Otherwise, I'll take a swing at the questions:

- How to approach options about the unexpected pregnancy

He needs to figure out what he wants and then realize it probably doens't matter, since he isn't carrying the baby. Seriously, the woman has the final say in this and while it's good for her to take the biological father's thoughts and feelings into account, the decision ultimately rests with her. To act any differently is to risk being a complete asshole.

So, have a talk with the soon to be mom and figure out how everyone feels. You don't have to decide anything at the first talk, but it would be good to get everyone's thoughts on the table and open up lines of communication.

- How to handle disclosure

Again, talk it over with the expectant mother. She definitely has a say in that, though of course not who he decides to share the information with.

- What this means for his relationships with women

That depends entirely on how he handles this situation. If he's supportive of the expectant mother's decision, even if he disagrees with and is helpful when he can, he will have the respect of any woman who knows this story. If initially acts like an asshole and then starts to be more supportively, he'll still have a lot of respect with future women.

If he repeatedly and continuously acts like an unsupportive jackass he will rightfully lose a lot of respect among men and women.

- Legal/financial issues (though maybe can be handled separately)

Consult a local lawyer, pronto. Even if he doesn't want the child, he's legally responsible for child support. Don't mess around with that. A paternity test is an absolute must, just so there's no misunderstanding that he's morally and legally responsible for this child.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:02 AM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

A paternity test is possible before birth.

I would consult a lawyer. I would also speak to a social worker in the area so that he knows what help he can obtain. What denotes a very messy situation?

What does the ex-girlfriend intend to do with the situation? Messy or not, this is a new situation that requires the people involved to immediately have maturity and calm. He needs to ultimately discuss with her what she would like to do in the event that she wants to keep the child and what she expects his role to be. He needs to express to her what he wants and what he expects his role to be as well.
posted by Yellow at 8:25 AM on October 12, 2012

Anonymity makes it hard to answer this question. There are far too many variables, including if he and this woman are in the same state, different states, and what state(s). Some states, like NY, have a non-negotiable income > support table. His status as student / employed / unemployed will make a big difference as to what his future potentially looks like.

On top of that, he needs to plan to verify paternity at birth and then decide if he's going to want to be together with the mother or single, and if single, an involved dad or an absent dad.

One thing I will say, though, based of my own experience, is that if this situation is "messy" in the drama sense, he should not assume this pregnancy is a real thing if it's reading like something that is being done to manipulate him into a relationship. If that's a possibility, it really would be better if you came back non-anon so we can get more detail to provide better advice.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:27 AM on October 12, 2012

If it is certain she will go forward with the pregnancy, consult a local family law attorney before anything else. Paternity laws vary by state. In certain states, even if a later paternity test proves the man is not the father, he cannot discharge child support obligation if he has begun paying child support or claimed paternity in any way.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 8:33 AM on October 12, 2012 [12 favorites]

A friend of mine is in a similar situation and in his case things went from bad to unbelievably awful, very very quickly. If the ex decides to keep the pregnancy, your friend should see a lawyer STAT. Please don't assume that good intentions will make this go smoothly. My friend went along with everything the ex wanted, and still found himself cut off from the child until he legally forced the issue months and months after the birth.

If your friend cannot afford a lawyer, work on helping him do so. This is the most important step he can take.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:40 AM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

I get the feeling the friend and pregnant ex-girlfriend are under-age minors -- OP, do I have it?

- Some of the answers about what to do and who to talk to vary depending on the ages of the people involved.

- Is this former couple still civil with each other? What does the ex girlfriend plan to do about the pregnancy? Has the pregnancy been confirmed??

I will say this: Worrying about what to say to potential future dates or girlfriends is FAR from being a priority right now.

Your friend should not let this spin into Dramaz. Your friend needs to confirm pregnancy and consult planned parenthood or similar resources for solid, practical advice.
posted by jbenben at 8:42 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Paternity laws vary by state. In certain states, even if a later paternity test proves the man is not the father, he cannot discharge child support obligation if he has begun paying child support or claimed paternity in any way."

Thanks to Hollywood Upstairs Medical College for posting this very good advice. Repeated for truth, emphasis mine.
posted by jbenben at 8:48 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

If it is certain she will go forward with the pregnancy, consult a local family law attorney before anything else. Paternity laws vary by state. In certain states, even if a later paternity test proves the man is not the father, he cannot discharge child support obligation if he has begun paying child support or claimed paternity in any way.

Repeated for emphasis. The single best thing he could do right now is to find a good attorney. I cannot possibly stress this enough.

Planned parenthood can be a good source of advice. Also, my own son was born in similar circumstances. If he wants to, have him memail me.

The main thing is : it's not the end of the world or even your life. Don't freak out. Things will be OK.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:03 AM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

If he already knows what he wants, a lawyer can make sure he gets what he wants — or at least, gets as much of what he wants as the law will allow him to have.

But it sounds like he might not even yet know what he wants. Or he might have a bunch of incompatible wants, like "Well, I want to step up and be a good father and be part of the kid's life but I also don't really want any extra responsibilities and I can't afford to pay any child support at all" — which is basically as bad as not knowing what he wants, because there's no way to actually get all of those things at once, no matter how good your lawyer is.

In that case, step one is to talk to a social worker. A good social worker can (a) help him sort out what his goals and needs and priorities are; (b) help him generally find ways to stay calm and clear and level-headed in the middle of all this stress; and (c) help him find whatever resources he ends up needing. That might include helping him find a lawyer, should it become necessary — but also stuff like "Here are some programs that can help the kid's mom out with prenatal health care" or "Here is a support group for young fathers that you might want to join" or whatever turns out to be appropriate and relevant to his situation.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:08 AM on October 12, 2012

OP, please contact me, either through memail, or via email (in my profile).
posted by toxic at 10:02 AM on October 12, 2012

LAWYER. Lawyer in your friend's jurisdiction can provide all the answers, starting with how to get a paternity test as soon as humanly possible to settling a fair child support / parenting time set up from the get go.
posted by mibo at 10:30 AM on October 12, 2012

It is smart for him to be informed about his legal rights and responsibilities, but he has to remember there is someone else involved that is probably freaking out. So a conversation from him that goes: "I would like you have an abortion but I do not legally have to pay towards it; the final choice is yours. Before making your choice keep in mind I will be paying the minimum support of $130/month (made-up but not unrealistic figure) and expect 40% of custody including every weekend if you have your baby and after I get three paternity tests.". That might be legally accurate but it will also poison any chance of building a relationship. Not a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship but a respectful and co-operative co-parent relationship. Nor would a bunch of pie in the sky promises he can't keep, or talk of the fun part of parenthood (baseball games! Gazing adoringly at the baby), with no mention of diaper expenses or six weeks of no sleep be helpful either. He needs to be mature, realistic, and focused on his ex.

If there is a chance that people around either of them are into dramaz it is even more important for him to always be respectful and supportive, especially in any written form that can be shared. Right now, his goal is to support his ex and prioritise her needs. He needs to step up for her and do his own freaking out privately and away from her (if freaking out with a mature, trusted drama-free friend is available he should take it). Talking to her about paternity test or accusations she may be lying are not constructive things to focus on right now. Most women are well aware of the trickster girlfriend narrative that the MRA have liberally doused the media and collective consciousness with. Focusing on him as a"victim" is not going to help him, ultimately. The truth will come out in time but a false accusation by him will always be remembered by her and everyone she shares it with.

I think a social worker would be the best choice, in my area the regional government has a health department that runs a healthy parent / healthy baby programme. Look for a similiar government-run programme in your area (or post you location so we can tell you) stay away from anti-choice organisations mascarading as crisis pregnancy "help". Good porgrammes are out there. That would be one place to start to learn what services to access and how to broaden the support for both him and his ex.
posted by saucysault at 2:53 PM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

OP, you *CAN* come into this thread anonymously -- you can just email the mods, even from a dummy e-mail account.

Keep in mind that a good family lawyer will help the situation -- they will be experienced in keeping the situation in practicalities rather than teh dramaz. A good lawyer will also give him an understanding of his real legal options and responsibilities, which will help stabilize the interpersonal situation.

Also, as his friend, keep in mind that he will still need support, maybe professional support, if the prospective mother miscarries or chooses an abortion. Just because the pregnancy was unplanned does not mean that the end of the pregnancy would be sunshine and roses. And if, God forbid, this is a manipulation tactic, he could benefit from someone to sort it out with.
posted by endless_forms at 3:14 PM on October 14, 2012

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