The legal word “consent” is often associated with intimate matters like sex, statutory rape and marriage. It also extends, though, to the often-inevitable outcome of sex: pregnancy. Women in Virginia have powerful rights to give or deny consent to the fathers of their unborn children, such as consent to attend prenatal appointments, consent to hear information from their obstetricians, and more.
Your Rights as a Father are NOT Automatic
If you get a woman in Virginia pregnant, you have no automatic rights over either the woman or her child, unless you can prove paternity. You must get the woman’s consent to continue to be part of her life, accompany her to doctor’s appointments, or be available during the delivery.
Circumstances in broken relationships are always fraught — have you rashly assumed your ex wants you around while she deals with her pregnancy? Have you assumed you are the only man who could be the child’s father? Do you know for a medical certainty that you can get a woman pregnant?
When an ex (girlfriend or wife; legally it does not matter) confronts you with the possibility of becoming a father, you may have one of several reactions:
- Elation that you are potent enough to get a woman pregnant
- Fearful of the responsibility looming in your future
- Worry about your ongoing financial commitments
- Hope that the pregnancy will help you two to reconnect
- Doubt that you are, in fact, the father
Paternity Laws in Virginia
Virginia’s paternity laws are clearly delineated in Code of Virginia:
The laws provide ample protections to Virginia’s men to avoid being falsely accused of paternity. This can save men the severe financial hardships of paying, ad infinitum, future child support payments.
When an ex announces or shares with you that she is pregnant, your first step should be to establish paternity, without which you have no legal rights in connection to the child. Establishing paternity should be done carefully, through a family law attorney, so you preserve your rights.
The Responsibility of Fatherhood
Many Virginia men take seriously the responsibility that comes with fatherhood. Many would be happy to tag along with a pregnant ex for her appointments, whatever they may be.
Without a valid paternity claim, however, you have no legal recourse for any decisions the mother (your ex) makes regarding the child (who may or may not be yours if you lack evidence of paternity).
This means, legally, your ex is within her rights, as explained by The Guttmacher Institute, to terminate her pregnancy, to place the child up for adoption, or to raise the child by herself.
Are You Being Intrusive?
The very act of impregnation in humans is intrusive; your continued presence in your ex’s life could well be an unwelcome metaphor for that momentary act. Though your intentions may be noble, you make a rash assumption that your ex even wants you to accompany her to appointments related to the pregnancy.
If you two parted with raw emotion, hostility, or fear, your attempts to push back into her life will be just more reminders of the wide gulf between you. For all your claims of “doing right by the child,” without establishing paternity your actions could be viewed as stalking or harassment.
Establish Paternity As Soon As Possible
Establishing paternity not only builds a strong bridge to the child’s future life, it also reaffirms your rights to:
- Parental visitation (parenting time)
- Child custody
Combining paternity evidence with improved communication with your ex can be a better way to succeed as a father than trying to push back into your ex’s life.
As with many aspects of our society, the default position seems to be that the man’s view is paramount. For pregnancy among single women, though, you very much take a back seat, if you are allowed on the ride at all.
Begin by accepting that your ex has all the power, even if only momentarily. She alone can give consent to allow you to be present at doctors’ appointments, view or hear test results, or be present at the birth. These are all enshrined under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which outlines how patient information (your ex) is shared with anyone (including you, the father).
So rather than ask yourself if you should be going to her appointments, ask her if she even wants you to be part of the process. If she does want you involved in her pregnancy, even without proven legal paternity, you can do whatever she deems (not what you would like). Drive her to appointments. Sit with her in the waiting room. Take notes in the examination room. Pick up prescriptions, pickles, and ice cream.
The Financial Responsibility of Being a Father
Some Virginia men fear backlash from seeming to be uninvolved in an ex’s pregnancy. This, in our litigious society, is understandable. A family law attorney can draft an agreement signed by your ex and you that she does not want you around, does not want your money, and will not pursue legal action against you.
If, though, you talk to your ex (or your attorney contacts her attorney) and find she does expect child support, go back to Step 1: paternity. Without that establishing factor, she cannot make a claim for child support against you.
You will never be unsure of where you stand with the attorneys of The Firm For Men. When you contact us at (757) 383-9204 or when you contact us online, we will maintain a professional, respectful relationship throughout your family law matter. We know Virginia law, but more important, we know Virginia’s men. We preserve and protect your legal rights.