Unwed father seeks advice about being an unwed father.
December 3, 2006 9:45 PM   Subscribe

I just found out (3 days ago) that I am a father. I don't really know where to begin looking for help/advice... so this seemed like a good place to start.

My child is still unborn (4 weeks pregnant). I am 22 years old. The mother and I are not going to get married and are not romantically involved (obvious past excepted). I am currently covered by my parents' heath insurance, but there is a plan I can get through my work. I'm still in college and working part-time. I live in Illinois.

The question(s):

Basically, any advice you can provide would be greatly appreciated.
posted by samurphy to Human Relations (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Two key aspects you left out that would be helpful for us to know:
1. How much involvement does the mother want from you?
2. How involved do you want to be in the mother's/your kid's life?
posted by np312 at 9:48 PM on December 3, 2006

If the mother is only four weeks pregnant, you've got a while to figure things out. You don't need to figure everything out at once.

My suggestion would be to start, if you haven't already, by talking with your parents about the situation. You are, presumably, going to be responsible at the very least for child support payments. If you want to be more involved, and if I were you I would most certainly want to be, you will need to rework your life to find time, energy, and money for your child. This will not be easy, especially at 22, and you will likely need help. Since you're on your parents' insurance, I assume you're on good terms with them. Hopefully, they will be willing and able to help you out.

Do please keep in mind, too, that four weeks is not very pregnant. There are all sorts of things that can happen between now and when the baby's likely to be born, somewhere between 33 and 37 weeks from now.
posted by cerebus19 at 9:55 PM on December 3, 2006

Another few aspects:
1. Has the mother decided that she definitely wants to have and keep the baby, or are abortion or adoption still on the table as options?
2. Do you and she get along okay?
3. Do you live near each other?
4. Do you or she live near your parents, or other family members who will be able to help out with childcare, and who will expect to be part of the kid's life?
5. Is she in college too? What's her income situation going to be like once the baby comes?
6. Does she have another partner now?
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:56 PM on December 3, 2006

Another thing that might be useful for you to know:
Many pregnancies end in miscarriage. This is especially true in the first 3 months. For this reason, people often don't tell others that they're expecting a child until the 3 month mark has passed -- because if you tell everyone, and then there's a miscarriage, then you have to tell everyone about the miscarriage which can be very sad and trying.

So: don't feel that you need to spread the word at this early date. (Though it's ok to tell for example your parents.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:00 PM on December 3, 2006

With all due respect: when the baby is born, insist on a blood test. You might well not be the father. These days a genetic test can give you a highly reliable answer to that question.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:39 AM on December 4, 2006

You sound an awful lot like a friend of mine (she's on the other end of the situation, pregnant at 22, but the dude is in the picture).

That said, I think that the best thing you can do is be there for the mother. Regardless of what her choice ends up being. Depending on who she is/temperment/etc, you can do something like: "[chick's nam here], I'm sure that this must me a hard time for you, with a whole lot of pressure from all sides. If you need someone to talk to or hold your hand [or whatever level of involvement you are comfortable with], I'm here for you."

I also think that unless you know without a doubt in your mind, a paternity test might be a good idea (like SCDB) suggested.

Good luck. (From what my pregnant friend tells me, having someone just BEING THERE and listening is a huge help.)
posted by sperose at 1:01 AM on December 4, 2006

I would talk to someone at your school, to make sure you are getting as much financial aid as possible. If/when the baby is born, you are going to be under tremendous stress with a job and school, and it will seem like a good idea to put off school for a while just to get the bills paid, keep the insurance, offer support to the mother, and help care for the baby. But statistically, people who do that do not return to school (or do so much later than they originally thought they would). Early unplanned pregnancy can be an indicator for poverty. I think the trick is to keep it all up - baby, job, and school - until you can finish school. That won't be easy, but it will be easier if you are getting as much aid from school as you can. You might also be eligible for a work-study program at school (very little money from that, though) and maybe student-rate insurance, and that would help ease the work pressure.

I'd go ahead and check all the financial angles, too. For example, will your parents' insurance policy cover you, and her, and the baby? Is it dependent on you staying in school, and taking at least 9 hours or so? Can you switch from an apartment (I assume you live in an apartment) to student housing for married couples? Do you have to be married, or can you do this just until the baby is born, to save the two of you some rent money? What does she need to do to be eligible for state/federal assistance programs? That may be humbling, but it is so much better to get assistance early on, to help you finish school, than it is to quit school.

If you both have good, or even just reasonably ok, relationships with your parents, it might be worthwhile to have a group meeting of sorts - you, her, her parents, and your parents. Generally, parents will do anything in their power to help their children, and they have seen this before. They will have very good advice, and all of you together may be able to put together a good plan. If you two do have the baby, the mother will be a part of your life for the rest of your life, so now is a good time to learn how to get along with the family and focus on communication.

When I was your age, I had several female friends who had unplanned pregnancies. What I can add from that is, now is the right time to really, really think about your options (which I'm sure is all you are doing right now), and if the two of you decide to end the pregnancy then do it now - don't put it off until it's too late or almost too late.

And, thirding the paternity test. Also, 4 weeks pregnant means that she's only missed one period - has she done several pregnancy tests, to make sure? Sometimes those are not accurate during the earliest stages, I think?
posted by Houstonian at 4:10 AM on December 4, 2006

First of all, take a deep breath.

Second, if you really do want to be involved, look at the long-term as well as the short. I'm not sure where you live, but up here in Canada we have what's called an RESP--Registered Education Savings Plan. It's like a 401K (if I understand those correctly), but you open it in your child's name for their future education, and it's tax-sheltered. If you can even afford to throw in $50 a month to start with, you're going to help your kid a hell of a lot later on in life.

Second of all, please use this as a reason to wear condoms in the future. Pregnancy isn't the only concern.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:06 AM on December 4, 2006

I've got to be a father to my child, but I feel like my obligation to the mother is to only help her through this situation that I've helped cause. In other words, I don't feel like I should have to marry her or support her (financially) but I should ease this burden. However, even as I type this I can feel all kinds of emotions and flip-flopping going on. She has stated that she wants me "to be there." but I'm sure that she's going through a lot and time will tell how this all pans out. Additionally, there's the issue of how involved the grandparents want to be and want me to be.

This upcoming weekend will be the "tell the parents" weekend. I'm still at school and I don't think I can tell them over the phone. I know that this is all very early, but at the same time I don't want something huge to sneak up on me and cause this to spiral out of control.

The mother has removed abortion and adoption from the table. She presented me with the options of being the father or not. I am absolutely sure that I am the father, paternity is not an issue. So I decided that being the father, means being a dad. (if that makes sense)

We get along. We've been friends for a while and have mutual friends. We live about an hour away from each other and she lives near her parents and my parents. She currently goes to college and works part-time. She's planning on moving in with her parents to remove the expense of rent so she can start saving money. She doesn't have another partner.

She's had the home test confirmed by a doctor and I can't stop thinking about financial angles. Luckily, my father is a taxman of sorts and will be able to help me in that regard.

This whole thing puts me in such a whirlwind of emotion, decision and depression/elation. I'm trying my damnedest to stay level headed and make rational, rather than emotional decisions. I also realize that she's just as terrified as I am, if not moreso. I've assured her that she's not alone and that I'll be there, though we've not discussed in what capacity that would be.

Thank you, everyone, for you answers, advice, and sympathy.

Some other questions that I've thought of:

How does child support work? How much can I expect to pay?
Will the child take my name if it's born in Illinois? Even if we're not married?
Is there anything that I'm not seeing?

Also, with regard to the condom suggestion, I find that I've had very little sex drive since I've found out. Sex is not nearly as exciting a proposition as it used to be. As a friend told me, "Not very many pornos end with the birth of a child..."
posted by samurphy at 8:56 AM on December 4, 2006

The child will take the mother's name unless Mom specifies that s/he will have yours; at least, that's how it works in most states.

Here's an Illinois child support calculator, and here's another. This will give you a ballpark on what you should be paying (and tell you what a court would have you pay if she sued for child support). Any amount agreed upon mutually between you and the mother, otherwise, should be fine.

A lot of this depends on the mother's income (more than yours). If she doesn't have a lot of it, medicaid or other public health insurance may cover her through the pregnancy and the baby through childhood (or at least until the mom has a high-enough income not to qualify). Otherwise, if you get insurance through work, you should be able to cover the baby once s/he is born, but would have to declare the mom as your partner or spouse to insure her.

Good luck.
posted by Cricket at 9:18 AM on December 4, 2006

My advice to you is, keep it amicable, keep it out of the courts, and cherish this child.
posted by Mister_A at 9:30 AM on December 4, 2006

With regard to a mutually agreed upon amount, what is advisable as far as getting it in writing. Clearly, I would keep receipts as proof of payment, but what can I do to show that I've been paying the agreed upon amount and not less?

I very much want to keep this out of court, but I also want to make sure that I don't end up there. I guess I should talk to a lawyer of some sort, but I don't want her to freak out about the fact that I'm seeking legal advice.
posted by samurphy at 10:41 AM on December 4, 2006

She has stated that she wants me "to be there." but I'm sure that she's going through a lot and time will tell how this all pans out. Additionally, there's the issue of how involved the grandparents want to be and want me to be.

Regardless of what she or the grandparents want, you are this child's father, and you get to decide what your relationship to your kid is going to be. Abortion and adoption have been taken off the table by the mom at the moment, but the child's name, where it's born, who it lives with what part of the time, and basically every other parenting decision under the sun, are absolutely your decisions to make on an equal basis with her. Good will between you is very important, obviously, but this is your son or daughter. You are not in a "supporting" role here -- you're in a starring role.

Maybe this isn't the way you would have chosen for this to go, but there it is. Serendipity. Samurphino is no less your child than if you were married to his mom, owned a house, decorated the nursery, and made him on purpose. So now what?

Please don't just allow everyone to assume the mom will have custody -- that is something you want to think hard about. You might be thinking, now, that you wouldn't begin to know how to take care of a kid, but please remember that unless the mom has other kids, she is just as clueless as you are -- contrary to what we like to pretend, women are not born knowing how to take care of babies. And the question is not whether you would have chosen to parent a theoretical child right now, the question is whether you want to parent your own actual child or leave all that to someone else. Her? Her new boyfriend? Her parents? There are a million ways custody can be worked out to give both of you real roles in your child's life, as long as you and the mother can talk. Should your relationship as co-parents ever deteriorate, your commitment to being a real parent to Samurphino from the beginning will have a big effect on how the court decides between you.

I think you are smart to lawyer-up a little now -- she should too. Hell, you can both sit down, arbitration-style, and work it out together. When everybody is friendly, it is easy, and it doesn't matter what the paper says. When everybody is pissed, it is vital that there is a paper, because God help you if you try to draw one up then. After all, the legal parenting agreement is not to protect you from her or her from you -- it is to protect your child from both of you.
posted by Methylviolet at 10:58 AM on December 4, 2006

Hello, me seven years ago!

I was a sophomore in college when I found out my girlfriend was pregnant. Abortion and adoption were not an option, so I had the same decision to make that you face now. I can't answer your child support questions, as we ended up getting married, but I'll share with you as much of my experience as I can.

I ended up leaving college and getting a "real" job to support my new family. I have not returned to school (I fit Houstonian's demographic to the letter). Though it's always there as "something I will eventually do," the drive to return diminishes every year. I now have a job in my desired career path, but I am almost definitely the exception in that regard. I recommend finishing school (at 22, you're closer to the end than I was, so hopefully this won't be a problem).

We have never been financially secure. Our phone has been shut off. Our car payments have gone to collection. We have lived check-to-check, putting off buying new winter coats for our daughter in order to eat. But now, thanks to two good careers, luck, and very generous family members...wonder of wonders we have a savings account.

As hard as those first few years were, they do not compare to telling our parents the news. I do not envy the weekend ahead of you. I was raised Catholic, so my mother didn’t exactly take the news well (read: she didn’t talk to me for a week and not to my wife for about a year beyond simple pleasantries). Now we all have a easy, “normal” relationship.

One thing having children young does is put a damper on your social life. This may seem laughably obvious, but I feel it requires stressing. When you can’t go to the bar every weekend, eventually you don’t get invited. It’s just the way things are. The upshot: five years from now, you’ll know who your real friends are.

Children provide an endless source of joy. But I’m not going to lie to you; the first few years are mentally, physically, socially and financially taxing. You will age ten years in the next two; but that means the wisdom that comes with age too. It’s a lot of work, and work than seems, at first, thankless. But trust me, it’s not.

Good luck, man. And yes, the distinction between father and dad is understood; the fact that you recognize that there is a distinction says a lot. You’ll do fine.

p.s.: If it’s a boy, be on your toes. They have incredible aim.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 11:27 AM on December 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

Samurphy, from everything you've said here, it sounds like you are in a pretty good position. You've got your head on straight when it comes to your role as a dad. The most important thing is that you and she get along! And it sounds like you both get along okay with your families, which will be key.

I know two women who had kids young and were not married to the fathers. In both cases, the women made a point of finishing school and now have jobs that use their qualifications. In one case, the father is not in the picture at all. In the other case, the father is very much in the picture, and the mom, kid, and dad all get along wonderfully. They don't spend a lot of time together as a group, but they live in the same town (one parent moved to make this possible) and the kid goes between houses with complete peace. She has two sets of parents and the whole thing works out great. Because the parents had a kid so young, they are really fun, active parents -- all the kids in the school love to come over, and they take kids hiking and taught them to play guitar etc. For them I think having a kid at 19 was actually a good thing (the kid is now 10 years old), even if it was hard at first. They are among the happiest families I know.

I think it would be an excellent idea to go, together, to a lawyer sometime before the kid is born and draw up an agreement in writing. It doesn't need to cover everything, but it should cover:
1. The fact that both parties acknowledge your expected role as the dad, and broadly what privileges and responsibilities you get from this. (eg, Will the kid will come stay with you for some periods once it is old enough? Will you have medical decisionmaking power? Will you have a veto if the mom decides she wants to move out of state, and vice versa?)
2. What kind of financial support you are expected to provide, and some way of verifying that you have been following through. Maybe there could be a bank account that you can deposit to, which will keep track of the deposits?

Congratulations, and good luck this weekend. :)
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:44 PM on December 4, 2006


Let the financial angle rest until the first trimester ends. As was said upthread, an early miscarriage could conceivably upset any such plans.

At that time, or earlier, if she begins asking substantive questions, I'd script the conversation roughly as follows:

Beat 1: Emotional Support

Assuage any doubts about your intentions regarding emotional support; make it clear that you will be completely engaged in your child's life. On the sidelines at little league games, in the audience at recitals, the whole nine yards.

Beat 2: Financial Support

Financially? You'll do everything in your power to ensure your child has everything he needs, but you will not be an anonymous benefactor; you will be the child's father.

Beat 3: What Parenthood Means to You [optional, cut for length if necessary]

You sort of had the important moments in your life all planned out: graduate college, get married someday, maybe buy a house. You may still do those things now, you hope to do some of those things now, but they're of secondary importance. Having a child is the single most important thing you'll do in your life, and you're not going to screw it up.

Beat 4: Practicalities

How much money can you spare towards the child's support initially? Can the grandparents help out financially or practically until one or both of you graduate college?


Private contracts for child support will not hold much weight in the eyes of a court; they will not hesitate to impose any amount they deem necessary if petitioned. The best you can really do is make a verbal agreement ahead of time and keep copies of checks and receipts, those should be evidence enough of good faith.

No matter what occurs, I wish you good luck.

(I am neither a lawyer nor a scriptwriter. This is neither legal advice nor a film pitch)
posted by The Confessor at 1:48 PM on December 4, 2006

I'm not a lawyer, not from Illinois. However... Child support is rarely/never a "mutually agreed upon amount". It is, instead, mandated by law and enforced by the courts. Often, payments are made into an account managed by the state. You pay them, they cut a check for the mother. It looks like support in your state is 20% of your income if you have only one child, and of course this goes up incrementally for every subsequent child, up to 50% of your income for 6 children (online calculator here). It seems that if you get behind on your payments to take care of your child, they will go to your employer to garnish your wages, will take your passport, and post your photo on the "deadbeats" web page... among other things.

Information about how to establish paternity is here.

Illinois also has alimony? So, you may or may not need to pay for that - I have no idea. But, you might want to ask someone about the common-law marriage definition in your state, just in case you and the mother decide to share the rent for a while.

Some state programs are available for non-custodial parents, and these mostly consist of programs to help you secure a job.
posted by Houstonian at 6:15 PM on December 4, 2006

I don't know much about child support, but just wanted to point out in my state (Louisiana), father's that don't pay child support can have their driver's license or (even more importantly to most) their hunting and fishing licenses taken away. Often that isn't enforced. Please no commentary on how backwards that may seem...

As an almost-dad myself last year (me=21 year old junior), I can relate. I can also tell you how not to handle telling your parents. (I'm just relaying the facts about my situation, no offense intended to any women that read)

Not long after I found out that she was 4-weeks pregnant, my mom calls. I am obviously upset. She starts asking me "what's wrong?". I reply with "Nothing". After we exchange that escalating sequence for a few minutes, I finally do the "LEAVE ME ALONE!!"/hangup routine and ignore calls for 10 minutes. I finally get a voicemail from my Dad saying "Don't make me drive 100 miles to kick your ass, b/c you know I'll do it. Call us back NOW!". I call back a few minutes later, tell both of them to get on the two lines of the phone (I don't feel like repeating this), and break the news. The parents were supportive, rational, and insisted on a paternity test.

The next few days were interesting, with Mommy-to-be and I not able to agree on anything. It didn't help that she already has everything planned out for this kid (it's living with her and never seeing me, has to be raised her religion, etc.) and insisting that I go home with her to BFE to tell her parents how I wanted to be supportive (and probably have shotgun wedding).Notice any contradiction? Yea, women drugged up on stress and their own hormones are wonderful to be around.

Long story short, a few days later she had a miscarriage. Her relative w/ medical experience thinks it was induced by the amount of stress she put on herself.

My email is in my profile if you want a funny anecdote (that only someone in your position could appreciate).
posted by coreb at 10:18 PM on December 4, 2006

I am a lawyer. You really need to see a lawyer for correct advice about the child support issue. The advice you're getting here is most likely incorrect and just going to worry you at this point. For now, just focus on developing a good, strong relationship with the mother -- whatever the dimensions of that are going to be -- and getting your families' support. The better the relationship you develop with the mother, the better things are going to be for everyone down the line.
posted by footnote at 4:59 AM on December 5, 2006

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