Do you deserve it? Yes you do! But is it worth the risks?
Rarely is there a cause so just that even the government agrees that it must be enforced. In the case of child support, the majority of Americans believe that the parent who is caring for children deserves financial help from the non-custodial parent. For many families in America, this enables custodial parents to provide a better life for their children, and allows non -custodial parents to care for their children in a way that they can.
However, our prevailing culture is resistant to letting go of its patriarchal viewpoint that even a dysfunctional or abusive natural father is better than none at all. Often times, child support and custody are intermingled. If a woman seeks child support, many resistant natural fathers will retaliate with a custody suit, despite often wanting nothing to do with the mother or baby before the child support order was filed.
This can be a horrific experience for an expectant or new mother. The laws in many states strive towards 50/50 physical and legal custody, even if a baby’s natural father has threatened and harassed a mother throughout her pregnancy and the baby’s infancy. In my opinion, this is abusing both mother and baby, as the baby’s body is subject to its mother’s experiences, whether good or bad. In many states, even unpaid child support has no bearing on whether a father is ultimately granted partial custody, and a mother is forced to do the most nerve-wracking and unnatural thing on earth: Hand her baby over to someone whose intentions may not be pure.
Is this fair? Absolutely not! But is it the way it is? Sadly, the answer is yes. Despite the strides that have been made in women’s empowerment over the last 40 years, many still believe that a man has a natural right to something that is growing within a woman’s body if it came from his sperm. If the mother was “stupid enough” to sleep with this man and continue a pregnancy unsupported by him, then this is what she agreed to and deserves. Ultimately, single pregnant women need to protect themselves and their children from our patriarchal culture and laws.
If you are single, pregnant, and seeking child support, ask yourself these questions:
Do I have evidence that this is a decent man? Has the baby’s father treated you with kindness and respect throughout your pregnancy? Has he tried to keep in touch? Do you know of any incidents of violence or substance abuse? Do his friends and family know about the pregnancy, and are they treating you with kindness? If by all indications this is a decent person, you may be able to have a workable co-parenting relationship. Protect your rights, but don’t completely shut him out unless you feel there is a legitimate reason.
Are my state laws mother-friendly, or do they urge co-parenting? The law can be tricky and vague, and sometimes judges don’t even follow the law. But you can find some good hints about your state’s social/legal climate by asking at your child support enforcement office, at your local women’s domestic violence organization, or by getting free consultations with as many attorneys as you can (Attorneys are more aware of issues surrounding divorce than single pregnancy, but one bonus is that the opposition can’t hire an attorney if you have consulted with her first). Don’t hire an attorney until you are certain that you will need one. Instead, just get information.
In my state, am I able to terminate parental rights? In some states, a father’s parental rights can be terminated if he has not had contact with the mother in a certain amount of time. If a father is known to be dangerous or abusive, this is often a good way to make sure he has no right to return and wreak havoc on your life. Get legal confirmation of your ability to terminate rights, document your baby’s father’s absence in an official and recognized way, and start counting the days he’s been away.
Being pregnant without a partner often delivers unfair circumstances regarding child support and custody, but if we stay one step ahead of the game, we can protect our children and ourselves.