I am a teenage soon to be father and I want to know my
legal rights, and what I can do to improve the chances of
seeing my child as much as possible. I will be graduating
school before the child is born. I also need some advice.
Thanks for writing. You're to be commended for taking the responsibility at your age for this baby.
Okay, I bugged you for many more details about yourself and your situation, and we covered quite a bit of ground. For other readers, I'll share that the baby is due in about half a year, that the father will be 18 on the baby's due date, and that the mother will be 17 on the baby's due date. The father and the mother are no longer in any relationship.
First, you and your parents really need to consult with an attorney on that one major concern I expressed to you privately. Before you take any other action, you need to know that answer.
Also part of the consultation with an attorney, you and your folks need to understand how your rights at 18 mesh with the mother's rights as an unemancipated minor of 17, and where her parents' rights come into play (i.e., their minor daughter is giving birth). Only a family law attorney in your state can hammer out these dynamics so you fully understanding them.
Now, on to everything else. I've asked many questions because all of this has a huge impact on the rest of your life, and I want to give a big picture answer.
It's my strongest opinion -- thinking solely about the baby -- that adoption is an ideal answer. Neither you or the mother are in a good place in life to raise a child, and there are many married couples out there who would provide a stable, nurturing environment for a child.
I've never been through it, but I imagine that making the decision to give up a child for adoption is a gut-wrenching experience that has pain that will stay with birth parents for years afterwards. But, sometimes doing the best thing isn't easy.
All of that said, it's my guess that you have no legal right to force an adoption. It's my guess that you have minimal legal rights to stop an adoption. Consult an attorney on that.
If adoption isn't going to happen, and if the child is going to be born, and if you want to be involved, I suggest you do all of the following, well before the baby is born
- Read a couple books on being a new father. Armin Brott is a good author with a number of father-oriented books, particular for a new father.
- Find a respectable parenting course that gives a certificate of completion. Call your county's courthouse, in the family law department, to see if they have a list of such courses available in your county. I don't care how much knowledge you may already have about parenting, but you can bring that certificate to your first court hearing (once the baby is born, and you're asking for court orders on being involved with the child), and you'll impress the judge with how seriously you're taking this.
- Find a confidante who would be seen as fairly objective in his/her perspective. I'm thinking of someone like your high school counselor (or you mentioned that you're close to a teacher). While I don't recommend you or the mother gossiping all about what's going on, someone like you high school counselor can give you another shoulder on which to lean. This person, too, can testify in court that you appear very sincere in your devotion to be a good father and your desire to raise your child. If that person can also add that you're a responsible, bright, caring young man; even better. A high school counselor is a much better witness than your mom or dad, in terms of testifying on your behalf, since that person will be viewed as fairly objective.
- Don't abandon any college goals you've had. Keep your grades up this year. If you've been considering out-of-state schools, add a local university as an option. By local, I mean within 20 miles of where the baby's mother currently lives. If there is no local university, find a local community college that has easily transferred college credits. It's my opinion (nothing to do with your legal position right now), that staying on track for college is a MUST for you. You're a good student, and it'd be idiotic to throw away the future that a college education will help provide for you, your child(ren), and your future wife. Your SACRIFICE, however, may be that you'll attend a local school so you can be close to your child and remain involved in raising him/her. In terms of $$, every school has a financial aid office, and you may get grants and/or student loans. What it does for you, in front of a judge,
- Consider selling the thing that you inherited. This money can help you attend college while working part-time. I can't imagine that you'll be able to be a father, attend school, and work full-time. Talk with your folks about this option. I don't know the level of sentimental value it holds, but if it can put $15,000 to $30,000 in your bank account, that could be your saving grace for helping you support your child, support yourself, and attend college.
- Strategically, it's not necessarily a bad thing to live with your parents. I'm assuming that your parents are good parents, of course. If there is a spare bedroom in their home that you can turn into a nursery... you've suddenly produced a home that is great for you and your child. In addition, you can tell a judge that your parents are committed to helping you out during this time in your life, and they can help provide care for the baby. Again, this is another SACRIFICE you'll have to make, to ensure that you can support the child and yourself while attending college. A judge cares about what's best for a child. You showing a stable home with additional caretakers to help you... that's not a bad thing to a judge. In two to four years, you can move out, having proven yourself as a father and being emotionally and financially ready to do that.
- Finally, never say anything remotely threatening to the mother, in any capacity. It's far too easy for a woman to get a restraining order, based solely on her word. If she accuses you of being harassing or violent, it opens a whole new set of hurdles you must overcome.
I think if you approach this something like how I outlined, it sets you up to be in a good position IF you end up in court.
IF you end up in court, it will be filed after the birth as a paternity action. If all parties agree that you're the father, then the court will issue orders for child support and the custodial schedule after hearing evidence and arguments from each side. At that point, you don't want to talk about your plans to get ready-- you want to be able to say, "Your Honor, I've spent the past six months reading about being a parent, I took a parenting class, my parents and I made a nursery in our home, I've accepted enrollment at a local college, I have a part-time job, and I'm all set to be a responsible father and a good co-parent to the mother."
Ideally, you won't end up in court, and you and the mother will be able to agree on terms that best serve the baby and are also acceptable to everyone.
In terms of what this means for your life-- you have to grow up faster than most people your age. When your child is in your care, you won't be dating or partying. When the child is not in your care, you probably won't have much time for dating or partying due to work and school. It's a different
path than most teenagers take, but not better or worse.
The flipside of this is... if you stay involved as a father and do it consciously and with commitment, the qualities that it will create in you over the next many years will create a guy who many women will find extremely attractive as they start looking for husband material. Your emotional maturity will be heads and tails beyond most of your peers, and that will serve you well in every aspect of your life.
Good luck, and please keep me informed.