It’s late at night and your phone rings. It’s her… your girlfriend, your ex-girlfriend, your neighbor, or that chick you barely remember from that bar you kind of remember going to. She gets straight to the point, “Um, I don’t know how to tell you this, so I’m just gonna say it, but you’re gonna be a dad.”
Maybe she’s joking. Maybe she’s serious. Maybe she’s just trying to get a diamond ring. Maybe it’s not even yours. You might feel confused, overwhelmed, angry, and out of control. And not know what to do first.
So (and not that this happened to me), I spoke to Arielle Capuano, with Levinson & Capuano, who focuses exclusively on family law, to find out what a guy should do when he hangs up the phone after getting “that” call. She gave me a list of 7 things you should do immediately to protect yourself, but keep in mind this is not legal advice, and the laws could be different where you live. (See the full disclaimer below. She is, after all, an attorney…) So take a deep breath, pour a glass of your favorite, and do this now:
1. Stay calm.
After hearing news like this, it’s pretty normal to feel all sorts of negative emotions. But imagine how this new mom is feeling. Pregnant women are often hyper-sensitive and very emotional, and may also be feeling overwhelmed and out of control. It’s important for you to set the tone early on and remain rational throughout the pregnancy. After all, one small fight can easily escalate into criminal charges, especially for men. If you find yourself ready to lose it, take a breather, wait for the dust to settle, and reassess the situation.
2. Do some research of your own.
Think back to all the encounters you’ve had together. Did you use protection? Does the timing add up? Were there other guys in the picture? Without upsetting the woman who may be carrying your child, try to figure out what the chances are that this is really your kid.
3. Get a DNA test as soon as possible.
As soon as the child is born, go get a DNA test. And you’ll want to get one from a qualified laboratory that offers “Legal Paternity Testing.” You can always start with an at-home test, but going to a qualified laboratory will give you the most conclusive answer and potential evidence in case you later need to enter the results in court to establish paternity.
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about getting a conclusive answer until the baby is born. While it is possible to perform pre-natal DNA testing, the procedures are expensive, risky, and usually require a doctor’s approval.
4. Figure out what role you want to play.
Assuming the child is yours, figure out what kind of a dad you want to be. Are you and the mother in a great relationship and want to get married? Do you barely know the mother? Or do you know her well enough that you know that you aren’t right for each other?
You don’t have to get married. I’ll repeat that: You don’t have to get married.
In today’s world, it is common for unmarried people to have and raise children together, and it doesn’t make you any less of a father to not marry the mother. But do step up to the plate however you can. If you want to be an every other weekend dad and pay your child support, go for it. If you’ve got it in you to do more, try your hand at being a fulltime dad – its more fulfilling that you’d think. Discuss your planned involvement in the child’s life with the mother and see what kind of parenting arrangements you can come up with.
5. Learn more about your situation.
Read up on babies. Read up on the pregnancy process. Talk to people who have gone through this before. They may be able to offer you tips and advice. Talk to your dad, your uncle, or that cousin who went through this last year. Get the support of friends and family who care and ignore the ones who judge you.
6. Start saving money now.
Try to estimate how much all this will cost and start saving money immediately. You may need to contribute to pre-natal costs, diapers, formula, day care, clothes, and the child’s healthcare. You may also want to budget for child support and possibly an attorney. Talk to other parents and figure out what costs you can contemplate ahead of time. You can’t estimate all your costs, but having a realistic idea will allow you to be better prepared.
Consider new ways to make more money: ask for a raise or promotion, or interview for a new position. Concessions will have to be made, and your life will change, but the sooner you plan ahead and save, the better off you and your new family will be.
7. Call a family lawyer licensed in your state.
Talk to a family lawyer to figure out what your options are. If the child is yours, you will have responsibilities, but you may not have rights.
Depending on the state you live in, you may have to formally establish your parental rights if you have a child out of wedlock. A good family lawyer can walk you through this process, establish and protect your rights, and set you up with a good parenting plan, laying out your custody and visitation arrangements. Paternity laws vary greatly by state, as do your legal options, so you owe it to yourself to at least get a consultation so you aren’t in the dark.
Remember: if it turns out to be yours, having a baby doesn’t have to destroy your life. But you do need to stay active in this process and maintain as much control over the situation as possible. Help yourself and get help. Ask questions and plan ahead. But most of all, take a deep breath and keep a positive attitude.
Arielle Capuano is a partner at a Levinson & Capuano, LLC, a Boutique Divorce and Family Law Firm in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, serving clients in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties. At Levinson & Capuano, Arielle handles divorce and family matters exclusively, focusing on paternity cases, divorces, child support, custody, and other family law issues. For more information, contact Arielle at (954) 703-2110, email her at Arielle@BrowardLegal.com, or visit her website at BrowardLegal.com.
[Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is NOT LEGAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied on to make any legal, medical, or other major decisions. If you have any specific questions or inquiries regarding any of this information, you should consult with an attorney licensed in your state.]