Most people have a general understanding that when a child is born, both parents have a legal duty to support that child until the child is 18 years old. What’s not so clear is what happens before the child is born. Specifically, can a mother receive child support for an unborn child? And who is financially responsible for the many expenses associated with pregnancy and child birth.
Can a mother receive child support for an unborn child?
Whether a mother may receive child support for an unborn child depends on whether the state that has jurisdiction over the case recognizes the duty to support an unborn child. Some states find that even unborn children are owed a duty of support and in these states, courts are allowed to assess child support against a father while the mother is still pregnant. However, there are very few cases where such orders are issued because the key to making this type of order is establishing paternity early on. In order to make any child support order, parental relationships must first be established for the child. After all, how fair would it be to order someone to pay child support for a child that isn’t theirs?
With very few exceptions (adoption, surrogacy, etc.), a mother’s parental relationship is not to be disputed because moms give birth to their children. However, establishing paternity is not so simple, because it can easily be disputed.
Generally, there are about four different ways paternity can be established:
- Acknowledgement of paternity (signing a document agreeing that you are the father of that child or will take parental responsibility for the child);
- Positive Paternity test results;
- Presumptions (When you are assumed to be the father of a child i.e. if your wife gets pregnant);
- Court order-when the court otherwise finds that you are the parent of that child and orders you to assume parental responsibility (i.e. by default, by estoppel, etc.)
The problem with obtaining a child support order to support an unborn child is that it’s more difficult to establish paternity for that child, unless the father is willing to acknowledge his paternity. If the father is not willing to acknowledge paternity prior to birth, you must wait until a paternity test is conducted, which most states will not order until after the child is born because of the medical risks associated with paternity tests administered during pregnancy. Consequently, although some states will allow a mother to begin the process of establishing paternity and support during pregnancy, unless the father acknowledges paternity, the mother is often left without child support until after the child is born.
Another important thing to note about child support is that the duty to support is not based on the gender of the parents. Both moms and dads can be ordered to pay child support.
Each state has a formula that is used to calculate child support according to that particular state’s guidelines. This formula most commonly uses the income of the parents, certain expenses, and the amount of time each parent spends with the child to determine who will pay support and the amount of support payments. So when considering whether a mother would be entitled to support during pregnancy, another important factor is whether the mother is the one who would be entitled to support in the first place. Because these formulas are used, it’s not unheard of for a mother to spend more time with the child, but make significantly more money than the father, and as a result, have to come out of pocket to pay support to the father and vice versa.
Who is financially responsible for the many expenses associated with pregnancy and child birth?
Although receiving support payments during pregnancy is unlikely, all hope is not lost for moms when it comes to financial responsibility for expenses associated with pregnancy and childbirth.
In addition to basic child support obligations, parents are responsible for their child’s medical expenses not covered by insurance including deductibles, co-pays, prescription costs, and other medical, vision, and dental, costs incurred. Many states even require reimbursement to the mother for reasonable expenses incurred during pregnancy and child birth. However, the amount to be paid and/or reimbursed depends on the state where the parties reside; most states have specific guidelines as to how these expenses should be handled. While some states require payment for uninsured expenses only after a certain dollar amount has been spent by the custodial parent, some states specify a certain percentage of uninsured expenses that each parent must pay based on their income. In contrast, some states require parents to share the cost equally, while others require the noncustodial parent to pay these expenses only if the amount exceeds the basic child support payment by a certain percentage.
Because the laws vary from state to state, it’s important for parents to check the child support laws in their state to see how these expenses may be handled based on their specific circumstances. Nevertheless, as with any child support case, it’s important for both parents to keep accurate records of any expenses incurred and/or paid for their child. Specifically, keep copies of all bills and receipts and provide copies and reasonable notice to the other parent of the same. And begin the process to establish parental relationships as soon after the child is born as possible, if not before.
If you are pregnant and having difficulty figuring out how to co-parent with your child’s father, make sure you check out my new book, The Business of Co-Parenting for Single Moms, which includes much insight and tips that have worked for my divided/blended family and clients.