BRING IT TO BARB Answering your questions on mental health, relationships and life issues

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Dear Barb,

I have really messed up. I have been in a relationship, which has been volatile for four years. My girlfriend is living with me and has kicked me out several times in her emotional outbursts and screaming bouts. She became pregnant during the on and off relationship. I am assuming that I am the father, and I would never walk away if I am the father. She must wait until the child is born to test for DNA confirmation. I care about her and love her, but don’t see myself with her in the future long term at this point. Can you give me some advice on protecting my rights? I am definitely willing to take responsibility if I am the father.

Signed,
Insecure

Dear Insecure,

Let me assure you that you are not alone in this situation. In fact, 35 percent of births in the U.S. are unwed mothers and in Tacoma 33 percent. The emotional rollercoaster this set of circumstances produces is, as you know, exhausting. How you handle this is important. My first suggestion to you is to consider discussing your situation with a local attorney. Knowledge is power.

Four years is an investment in a relationship so I’ll be sensitive and give you the simplified explanation to a complicated problem.

The term “putative father” generally means a man whose legal relationship to a child has not been established but who is alleged to be or claims that he may be the biological father of a child who is born to a woman to whom he is not married at the time of the child’s birth.

An “acknowledged father” is the biological father of a child born to unmarried parents who admits that he is the father. Acknowledged fathers are obligated to pay child support. A person is presumed to be the parent of a child if, for the first two years of the child’s life, the person resided in the same household with the child and openly held out the child as his or her own. This is the reason that a paternity test can be vital. The DNA test is extremely reliable, and can provide a probability of paternity of 99 percent or higher. I would suggest you do a paternity test to protect your rights. Tests can be accurately performed on children younger than 6 months of age. The test is done by using a Buccal swab specimen collection in which cells are obtained from the inside of the mouth (the inner cheek). It has eliminated the need to draw blood.

In typical cases, paternity must be established before a mother can demand financial support for her child. However, in many cases where a father wants to help – wants to be a father to his child – paternal tests are important because it is a means of proving a child is indeed his.

Paternity can also be established when the mother, or the state (providing public assistance to the mother), brings a paternity lawsuit against the probable father. The probable father will be required to appear in court and may need to submit to DNA testing. If paternity is established, the court will enter an order regarding the father’s paternity and he will be required to pay child support. Whether paternity is established voluntarily or involuntarily, it has several important legal consequences.

For the father: A man who is legally established to be a child’s father is held accountable for his share of support and responsibility. If the father is unwilling to support the child voluntarily, he can be compelled to do so after a successful paternity suit. If the child was born out of wedlock and the mother wishes to give the child up for adoption, she will be unable to do so when the father asserts paternity and refuses his consent. A father claiming paternity also gains custody and visitation rights to the child.

For the mother: Paternity determinations secure financial support from the father. The mother may also be required to share custody with the father and required to allow visitation time.

For the child: A paternity determination secures support. The child gains the right to receive shelter and aid from his or her father. Inheritance, health risks and other dependent based assistance as well, he or she will be eligible to receive.

If support is not paid, all states have child support or child welfare agencies that can track through a variety of methods, including Social Security numbers, employment records, DMV searches, etc. Courts can place liens on property, garnish wages and even imprison fathers who don’t pay child support. This could be life altering, which is why a paternity test is wise for you.

The relationship you briefly described sounds troubling but don’t be fooled about the consequences of a break-up. It feels comparable to a divorce. Give yourself time. Surround yourself with good friends. Only you know what is best for you. A quick therapy you can try at home alone is to look at yourself in the mirror every morning and say firmly, “I am worthy of an amazing someone who improves my life, and is not destructive to my life.”

Barb Rock is a mental health counselor for the House of Matthew Homeward Bound program in Tacoma, and the published author of “Run Your Own Race: Happiness after 50.” Send any questions related to mental health, relationships or life issues to her at BarbRockrocks@yahoo.com.

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