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An unplanned pregnancy: the rights and obligations of the parents

Date:19 FEB 2019

What would do you do when you have an unplanned pregnancy? What are your rights as a mother, and what are the obligations of an unwilling father? Melbourne-based family lawyer Monica Blizzard finds out.

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If you know who the father is and have advised him of the pregnancy, but he is unwilling to be an active parent, you still have 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.

The biological father

If you genuinely believe that you know the identity of the father, and you register them 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

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.

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