The recent New Jersey ruling blocking an unmarried father from being in the delivery room during the birth of his child has brought to the forefront an issue that desperately needs attention: the rights of an unmarried father.
Under current law, unwed fathers face a long and difficult battle to gain even the most basic of parental rights.
With more than 40 percent of children born out of wedlock in the United States, the extra hoops these fathers are required to jump through creates an unfair and unnecessary struggle for many men who simply want to be a part of their child's life. Unmarried fathers are essentially treated as second-class parents.
In the New Jersey case, Steven Plotnick sued ex-fiancé Rebecca DeLuccia for several basic rights regarding his child: the right to notification when DeLuccia went into labor; the ability to see his child as soon as possible after birth; the ability to sign the birth certificate shortly after birth; for the baby to carry his surname; and for a parenting-time order to be issued. All of these requests were denied.
Most media coverage has focused on whether an unwed father has the right to be in the delivery room at the time of birth, though Plotnick's attorney has since denied that as their stated wish.
Either way, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Sohail Mohammed ruled that mothers have the right to decide whether the biological father is allowed in the room, but the wording only applies to fathers not married to the mother.
If the intent was to protect the health and privacy rights of the mother, why single out the ability to ban unmarried fathers instead of simply giving the mother absolute authority over who is allowed in the delivery room when the child is born?
Unnecessarily specifying unwed fathers like this clearly demonstrates the discriminatory attitude that is generally held: If you aren't married to the mother, you are less entitled to the rights of a father.
Moving beyond the predominantly reported aspect, the other requests in Plotnick's suit also carry fairly significant implications. The judge ruled that notifying Plotnick when his ex was going into labor would be a violation of the mother's privacy, and "Any interest a father has before the child's birth is subordinate to the mother's interests." Unmarried fathers are not even entitled to know when their child is about to come into this world.
The final major points of contention were the right for Plotnick to sign the birth certificate shortly after birth and for a court order to be issued allotting him time to see his child.
According to Mohammed, the best interests of a child cannot be determined prior to birth, therefore a judgment for parenting time was inappropriate. Granting Plotnick the right to sign the birth certificate would also be a violation of the mother's rights because she did not consent to the action.
When married couples have a child, the husband is legally assumed to be the father (whether that is true or not). However, unmarried fathers have no assumption of paternity, which must be established before they have any legal standing for custody, visitation or the right to be a part of that child's life.
The easiest method to establish paternity is to have the father present to fill out the birth certificate with the mother. However, the mother apparently has the right to deny this as well.
Based off the judge's ruling, it appears unwed fathers must still seek permission from the mother for essentially anything pertaining to the child, regardless of during the pregnancy or after. It would seem the umbrella reasoning could be boiled down to "any interest a father has in their child is subordinate to the mother's interests. Period."
With the increasing trend of having children out of wedlock, it is time to readdress the rights -- or lack thereof -- held by unwed fathers. The case in New Jersey has put a spotlight on just how little control a father has when he is not married to the mother of his child.
Being married does not automatically make you a good parent; just as being unmarried doesn't automatically make you a bad parent. Unwed fathers deserve the same opportunity to be a part of their child's life, and it's time we stop making them work so much harder to obtain basic parental rights.
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