Parental Rights and Responsibilities When a Relationship Ends Before Birth

When a relationship breaks down, it is common to feel sad and angry about the breakup and fearful about what the future holds. This fear can be magnified if you discover you are pregnant.

When a relationship ends before the birth of the child, the mother must make some important decisions.

Deciding whether or not to involve the father

If the relationship ended due to domestic violence or abuse, the mother may decide to raise the child alone and not pursue financial or emotional support from the father. There may be complications in this situation if the father later realizes that he has fathered a child whose life he is excluded from, so it is worth seeking legal advice from an attorney who practices family law in Santa Fe ( if this is the case.

If the mother wishes to pursue child support payments from the father after the child is born, she will need to have a frank discussion with him as early in the process as possible. It is ideal if he acknowledges paternity after the birth of the child. By acknowledging paternity and being named on the child’s birth certificate, the father will receive parental rights and responsibilities.

If the proposed father contests paternity, the mother will need to file a Petition to Establish Paternity, Custody, Time-sharing, and Child Support [1]. In this situation, the court of New Mexico will generally require that the child and proposed father be swabbed for DNA to determine paternity. This cannot happen until after the child is born. Once paternity is established, the mother will be entitled to seek child support payments from the father.

Additionally, it may not be possible to exclude a father from a child’s life. The decision is not the mother’s. A father could seek to establish custody of the child. In so doing, however, he will invariably subject himself to child support obligations. Sometimes this is enough to dissuade would-be fathers from pursuing any rights to their child. Often times, however, this is not an impediment and fathers want to be a part of their child’s life despite a mother’s objections.

What are parental rights and responsibilities?

Parental rights give parents the right to make important life decisions for their child. These include where the child lives, their education and religion, consenting to any necessary medical treatments, protecting and caring for the child, and ensuring they are financially supported. Parental rights additionally include the right to spend time with the child.

New Mexico’s approach to parental rights

New Mexico law encourages joint parental responsibility and legal custody. It is based on the belief that a child is best served by having the care, love, maintenance and supervision of both of their parents, even when those parents are separated or divorced. This presumption can be overcome, however, by a showing that joint custody would not be in the best interest of the child. For instance, if a father is abusive, an active drug user, or something to that effect, it would not be in the child’s best interest that he have joint custody.

Joint legal custody prevents one parent from making major life decisions or changes without the consent of the other parent. It is different from physical custody, in which separated parents each spend time with their child on a defined schedule. 

In cases where an unmarried mother has already separated from her unborn child’s father, the courts will determine the extent of his relationship with the child and that will inform any custody decisions, at least initially. Therefore, the physical custody that is allocated will generally differ from the arrangements seen in a typical relationship breakup involving older children who already have an established relationship with both of their parents.

Ideally, the mother and father should agree on a mutually acceptable custody and time-sharing arrangement in which the father is given the opportunity to bond with his child. With a newborn, this will likely entail regular periods of supervised visitation at the mother’s home or a jointly agreed location. As the child ages, it is likely that increased time-sharing with the father will be facilitated for the child’s benefit.

How child support will be determined

Child support in New Mexico is calculated based on the proportion of time each parent spends with the child, their gross monthly income and any other monthly expenses that need to be funded [2]. 

Dealing with disputes

If the parents of the unborn child fail to reach an amicable agreement about parental responsibility or custody, they should consider attending mediation. If they fail to reach a mutually acceptable outcome in mediation, it is likely that the court of New Mexico may refer the parents to Court Clinic for a “Scheduled On-call Consultation” in which they will be interviewed and all relevant information will be reviewed so a recommendation for time-sharing can be presented to the judge.

If either or both parents disagree with the court’s recommendations, they will have 11 days to file an objection. A hearing will be set to address the objection at which the Court Clinic’s recommendation will either be endorsed or modified based on the evidence presented. 

Help is available

Having a child alone is a big decision that will have a lifelong impact. Women in this situation must carefully consider all of their options and recognize that pursuing child support from the father requires granting him parental rights. At the Law Office of Dorene A. Kuffer, we are experienced in all aspects of family law and can help you achieve a position of stability and certainty.