Q: What can I do if my girlfriend gets pregnant and I am not sure I am the father of the baby?

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1 TEEN PARENTS: Teenage Fathers Q: What can I do if my girlfriend gets pregnant and I am not sure I am the father of the baby? A: You can have a blood test done to find out whether you are the father. If you and the mother agree and have money to pay for the blood test, you can have it done without a court order. If not, it can be done as part of a paternity proceeding (a petition to the court to decide who the father is). The law allows the mother, the father and the state to file a paternity petition. In the paternity proceeding, the court will usually order the child, the mother and the named father to take a blood test. If the state started the paternity action, you cannot be required to pay for these tests if you don't have the money. If, on the other hand, you file the petition, you may be required to pay for the tests. You may be able to get help paying for the tests from some of the agencies listed in the Resource Guide listed on the Middleton Center website. Q: If I take the blood test and it turns out that I am the father, what are my legal rights and responsibilities? A: After it is proven that you are the father, you will be ordered to pay child support. You will also have the right to visit with your child. You can also ask for custody, which will be ordered if the court finds it is in the child's best interest. Q: Will it be difficult to get my name on my child s birth certificate at the hospital if I m not married to his or her mother? A: If both you and your child s mother agree that you are the father, it is not difficult to get your name put on the birth certificate as the child s father. You will usually be asked to fill out paternity papers at the hospital. Both you and your child s mother will need to sign the papers. If you fill out and sign the papers, when your child s birth certificate arrives in the mail, your name will be listed as the child s father. If, however, either you or your child s mother refuse to sign the papers, you will need to ask a court to declare you are the father. This is called a paternity proceeding. Note if you sign papers saying you are the father, you will have to pay child support for that child. Q: Can I force my girlfriend to have an abortion if I am not ready to be a father? A: No. A woman's privacy rights allow her to make the final decision about abortion. This right applies to all women, including teenagers. In other words, neither you, your parents, nor her parents can force a woman to have an abortion. 1

2 Q: As an unmarried father, can I get custody of my child? A: As long as the mother admits that you are the father of the child or you have a paternity order (a court order saying you are the father), you can ask for custody of your child. The child's mother has an equal right to custody until the court orders otherwise. The court will give you custody if they find it is in the best interests of the child for you to have custody. Unless you are a danger to the child, it is likely that the court will award you at least some type of visitation. Q: As an unmarried father, am I legally entitled to visit my child? A: Yes. The father of any child, including a teenage father, has the right to be involved with his child unless he has been proven to be an unfit parent, has given up his parental rights, or the family court believes that contact with the child is not in the child's best interest. Q: How do I get to visit with my child if the mother won't let me? A: You may need a lawyer to help you. If there is a court order giving you visitation, but the mother stops you from visiting at the time set in the order, you will need to go to the court to ask the judge to enforce that order. If you do not have a court order, you will need to go to court to ask for visitation. If you have an order, but it doesn t state times for your visits, you may need to go to court to change the order to specify times for visits. The mother must follow the order or risk being charged with contempt, which could result in a fine or jail if she continually interferes with your visits. Q: Do I have to pay child support even if I am only a teenager? A: The legal responsibilities of teenage parents are the same as those of adult parents. In Iowa, teenage parents must take care of their children. You are required to support the child regardless of the fact you are not married to its mother, even if the court does not allow you to visit the child. The court may order you to pay child support, but this will depend on the facts of your case. Sometimes, the grandparents will be ordered to help pay for the child if the child s parent is himself a minor. 2

3 Teenage mothers Q: Do I need a prescription or my parents consent to get birth control? A: Regardless of your age, the law allows you to get birth control with or without a prescription. Condoms, foam and spermicidal gels can be bought at drugstores or grocery stores without a prescription. With a doctor s prescription, you can get birth control pills, an IUD, Depo-Provera shots, or a diaphragm. You do not need your parent s consent to get birth control. Public health agencies or family planning clinics may be able to assist you. Many clinics provide low-cost or no-cost birth control, depending on your income level. Q: Can I stay in school while I am pregnant? A: Yes. Public schools may not discriminate against you because you are pregnant by keeping you out of classes or other school activities. A public school also may not force pregnant students into special programs, but they may offer special programs for pregnant students that you may choose to participate in. Schools must excuse absences related to pregnancy in the same way they would excuse absences for any other medical reason. Alternative schools may provide day care while you are at school. Q: Can I get help to pay the hospital bills? A: There are several agencies in Des Moines that can help you fill out necessary forms to get financial aid or give you referrals to agencies that actually give money to help with your bills. In Des Moines, you can contact the State Child Support Recovery Unit at You might also be able to get help through the Youth Law Center. In addition, there are a number of organizations that help unmarried parents and that might be able to provide assistance. Q: Can I get help to support my baby if I decide against an abortion or adoption? A: Yes. Contact the State Child Support Recovery Unit at to get help with child support. Call the State Department of Human Services to get other kinds of help and referrals. You might also be able to get legal help through the Youth Law Center. In addition, there are a number of organizations that help unmarried parents. (See Resources) 3

4 Q: If I become overwhelmed with caring for my baby, are there temporary resources available to help me take care of him or her while I work on solving my problems? A: You can voluntarily place your child in a foster home or nursery while you work on solving whatever problems you may have. This does not mean that you are giving up your child permanently. It is only a temporary placement while you get help. Many community and religious organizations provide help. You might be able to get temporary help from YESS. (See Resources) If you plan to put your child in foster care, you should speak with a lawyer first. The Youth Law Center and Children and Families of Iowa can help you with information about your rights. Q: Do I need my parents consent to have an abortion? A: Iowa law requires that no person perform an abortion on a pregnant minor until at least 48 hours after the parent is told. However, if a pregnant teenager does not want her parents to know she is pregnant and wants an abortion, she can ask the court to allow her to get an abortion without telling her parents. Before making a decision, take time to learn about all of your options. Talk to an adult that you trust or contact one of the agencies listed below. The Youth Law Center offers free legal advice and representation, as well as referral services to teens. Several other organizations in Iowa such as Planned Parenthood also offer free services to teenagers. Q: How can I find a safe and private clinic to go to and will I have to pay for the abortion if I decide to have one? A: Planned Parenthood is a good resource. They offer counseling on birth control, abortion, foster care, adoption and more. The service is free or inexpensive and confidential and parental consent is not required. A translator is also available. You will have to pay for the abortion if you decide to have one; however, Planned Parenthood will refer you to agencies that will help you if you are financially unable to pay. They also have payment plans to help teenagers pay in installments if they need to. Q: How late is too late before I can have an abortion? A: That depends on your particular circumstances. Agencies such as Planned Parenthood of Iowa and Family Planning Clinics in Iowa can provide answers to this and similar questions. Any information you give will be confidential. They will not tell your parents or others what you have told them. 4

5 Q: Can my parents or my partner force me to have an abortion? A: You have the right to make the final decision about an abortion. Neither your partner nor your parents can force you to have an abortion. Q: Can my parents or my partner force me to give my baby up for adoption? A: You have a right to place your baby with the father, the state, or an agency if you are unable or unwilling to take care of him, but no one can force you to give your baby up for adoption. However, a court may take your baby away if you are found to be an unfit parent. Q: If I give my baby up for adoption, will she have a legal right to find out who her mother is? A: In Iowa, as in most states, papers and adoption records are not open to the public and state workers can't tell who the biological parents are, except in special circumstances. If you are concerned about keeping your identity confidential, discuss this with the adoption agency and with a lawyer. The Drake Legal Clinic and The Youth Law Center in Des Moines both offer legal advice on such matters. Q: Can I maintain contact with my baby if I give her up for adoption? A: Before adoption, the parental rights of the biological parents are terminated. As a general rule, once the parental rights have been terminated and the adoption petition granted, all legal ties, rights and obligations of the biological parents are ended. Biological parents, relatives or other people with past ties to the child usually do not have visitation rights after the adoption. It is possible to have an open adoption in which the parties agree to allow the biological parents to maintain contact. If you agree to an open adoption, the adoptive parents cannot be forced to honor their agreement with you if they change their minds. You should hire your own lawyer if you want an open adoption to discuss your rights before you give up your child. Q: Do I have to put the father s name on the birth certificate? A: No, you can decide to leave the space for the father s name blank. The decision is entirely yours to make. The hospital will list your name as the mother. Q: Can I make my baby s father pay child support? A: You can force your baby s father to pay child support with help from the court and the Child Support Recovery Unit. However, before an order for child support will be made, you must prove who the father is. A paternity petition may include a 5

6 request for medical support, reimbursement of medical costs of pregnancy and birth, court costs and lawyer fees. If the father is a minor or is poor, you can ask for support from his parents. Q: If the father of my baby tries to take my baby away from me, where can I go for help? A: The Youth Law Center provides legal representation for teenagers under the age of eighteen. Legal Aid provides services to people who can't afford a lawyer. The Drake Legal Clinic also offers legal help or referral services for teenagers in some cases. 6

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