Today, we often talk about pregnancy and a woman’s right to choose, however, we don’t often talk about the father’s role during an unplanned pregnancy. This lack of discussion may lead many women to wonder, does a pregnant woman have to tell the father?  In the majority of cases, a woman should tell the father but that does not mean that she has to legally tell him. The legality of it can depend on the state where you live and we recommend that you seek the advice of a local attorney if you do not want to tell the father. 

Most people who wonder whether or not they have to tell the father are pregnant but are not married. They may be in a relationship or they may not be in a relationship. Either way, if you are wondering whether or not you have to tell the father, there may be something that is preventing you from having this conversation. You may be afraid of losing a relationship, regaining a relationship you were ready to leave, or dealing with the biological father’s response. In addition to addressing these legitimate concerns, I will also discuss safety concerns, legal issues, the benefits of support, concerns for the child’s future, and the father’s rights.

Fear of Losing a Relationship 

When a pregnancy is unplanned, the birth mother may wonder if her relationship with the birth father will survive this unexpected turn of events. She may be afraid of losing that relationship and want to withhold the pregnancy from her significant other. Even worse, she may have become pregnant before her current relationship started. Now she will not only have to decide whether or not to tell the father, but she will also have to decide whether or not to tell her current partner. 

While I can understand the desire to withhold this information because you are afraid of the consequences, it is better to tell the truth about the pregnancy than deal with the consequences of a lie. If you choose to lie, eventually your significant other (and the father if he is no longer your significant other) will find out. When they do, it will be much worse because you concealed the information. It is better to confront the difficult situation early so that you can move forward and no longer worry about what would happen if he found out. You never know how he will respond and you might not lose your relationship. It might actually become stronger.

If you do lose the relationship, it will hurt but you can move on knowing that you were honest and you did your best to preserve the relationship. It can also teach you about your significant other and help you decide if you want the relationship to continue. Stressful situations like an unplanned pregnancy can teach you a lot about a person.

Regaining a Relationship You Were Ready to Leave

Some people may appreciate regaining a relationship that ended, but if you were the one who left your significant other you may not want to tell them you are pregnant. What if they want to get back together? You left them for a reason and the fear of the relationship restarting may prevent you from telling them about your pregnancy. In this case, it is still important to tell the father. However, it is also just as important to establish boundaries and let him know that you do not want to start dating again. By stating this upfront, you will prevent any misunderstanding about your future relationship.

Dealing with the Biological Father’s Response

Responses to anything surprising can be unpredictable. Telling a significant other that they are the biological father to your child can be stressful when you do not know how they will react. If it was unplanned, they will probably be shocked and have a lot of questions. They may take some time to process the news. This means that you may not get a great response immediately. Try to be patient with them and allow them time to adjust. Even if they respond negatively at first, they may come around and be excited about the news. 

If the father’s response is negative, then you can move forward making decisions about the pregnancy on your own. You can focus on the advice and love of your support group without worrying about leaving the father out. When you allow him to decide, then you can move forward with a clear conscience. If possible, you may be able to help the father come to terms with the pregnancy. Remember that ultimately their response is not your responsibility. You are in charge of your own emotions and decisions and not his. So, don’t focus on how he thinks and feels about it. Instead, deal with your own emotions and decisions.

Safety Concerns

Safety concerns are not always an issue when a woman is choosing whether or not to tell the father that she is pregnant. However, for women who have been abused and become pregnant, safety is definitely a concern. How will the father react to the news? Will he become abusive toward the woman? Will he try to force the woman to keep or get rid of the child? All of these questions will need to be addressed before deciding whether or not to tell the father. When deciding when, if, or how to tell the father of the child (if he is abusive) we recommend you seek legal counsel.

If you happen to be a woman in an abusive relationship and you have become pregnant, I plead with you to leave the relationship. Seek help from trusted family members or friends. If you do not have any trusted family members or friends, then find help through women’s shelters. I promise there are people out there who want to help you. You can overcome the trauma of an abusive relationship.  

The problem with being concerned for your own safety in a relationship and then becoming pregnant is that now you will be concerned for your safety and your child’s safety. In cases such as these, it may be safer for you and your unborn child to not tell the father. Consult with an attorney to make sure you protect yourself and your child from future problems if you do choose to tell the father. Keeping yourself and your child safe is the most important thing you can do. Of course, if you have been sexually assaulted the same answer applies. When your safety is in jeopardy then you need to address that first. 

Legal Issues

As stated previously, laws regarding birth father rights are different from state to state and we recommend that you contact a local attorney before making any final decisions. If you are considering placing your child through adoption, some states may legally require that the birth father give consent in order for the adoption to be finalized. Although this requirement is not universal, I recommend that you learn the laws of your state to avoid future problems. Additionally, fathers have legal rights regarding their children, and proving their parentage legally allows fathers to be involved in their children’s lives even if the birth mother is not married to the father. 

So, if the father of your baby is safe for you and your child I recommend that you tell them about the pregnancy. Telling the father will save you legal battles in the future and will allow both of you time to adjust to the news. You can begin to make plans for the child together.

The Benefits of Support

A very important reason why you should tell the birth father about your pregnancy pertains to the support you can receive. When you tell the father about a pregnancy you can receive help and support. Even if you are no longer in a relationship with the father of your child, he may still be able to help in many ways. The father may be able to provide much-needed emotional and financial support during the pregnancy. The birth father can help you realize that you are not alone in this experience. He can help decide what to do about the pregnancy and what would be the best option for you as well as the child. Fathers can be immensely supportive and telling him may be the best decision you ever made. 

Concerns for the Child’s Future 

I was sitting in a foster care training class when some grandparents spoke about their grandson’s struggles. His mother became pregnant with him at a young age and she did not know who the father was. They have tried to find the father, but have been unable to successfully figure out his identity. As the grandparents spoke of their grandson’s struggles they mentioned that he is well into his teenage years, but he refuses to date. He doesn’t date because any of the girls that he dates may be related to him. He lives in fear every day that any of the women he meets may be a sister. If this poor boy knew who his biological father was, then he could eliminate major stress from his life. He could pursue relationships without fear. 

This may be a somewhat extreme case because the mother didn’t know who the father was, but the child had legitimate fears. In not knowing who we are related to, people can come up with all kinds of situations where this lack of knowledge can hurt them. There is a certain peace that comes from knowledge about where we come from. That is why we constantly read stories about people who were adopted finding their biological parents. They want to know where they get their DNA and any genetic medical issues that they may have inherited.

Telling the father and allowing the child to know their father, is one way you can relieve a lot of stress from your child’s life. It is a way to help them live a more healthy and fulfilled existence. They will not have unanswered questions about their parentage that keeps them up at night.

The Father’s Rights

I know someone who was adopted as a baby. The birth mother did not put the father’s name on the birth certificate, stating that she did not know the father’s identity. However, as the adoptee grew she became curious and wanted to find her biological father. She took a DNA test and ended up finding her biological father. When they met, he cried. He said that he asked the birth mother when she became pregnant if the child was his. Her reply was no. Since he was very young he didn’t know what to do, but he felt like the child was his. The birth mother didn’t tell him the truth because she knew that she wanted to place the child through adoption and was afraid he wouldn’t want that.

Her fears about his response and involvement in the pregnancy decisions led her to make this choice. However, in doing so she deprived him of the opportunity of getting to meet, learn about, or spend time with his child. He may have been okay with adoption and been able to participate in his daughter’s life through an open adoption. Instead, he found out about his daughter when she was already a teenager. This kind of experience happens often, but it really isn’t fair to the father. If it were possible for the birth mother to exchange places with the birth father, she would want to know. 

Perhaps the best answer to the question is yes if it is safe. Treating other people the way we want to be treated is a golden rule and applying that golden rule to this situation will help the birth mother make a decision that will create a better future for her child and for everyone involved in the child’s life. It will allow the father of the child to be involved from the beginning and not be blind-sighted years later when they find out that they have a child who is a teenager or an adult. In the majority of cases, even though it may be hard, the answer to the question is yes. If you are pregnant, you should almost always tell the father. Only when it is not safe for the birth mother to be with the birth father is the answer to seek legal counsel and possibly withhold the information. In those circumstances, the safety and well-being of the mother and the child are the most important thing.

Jennifer Autry