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What Are a Father's Rights Before Birth?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 28, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

While a father's rights regarding his unborn child are limited compared to those of the mother, they aren't nonexistent. There is still an important role for the father to play as well as some important decisions that he can be a part of.

Most of those decision-making rights are retained by the mother, but the father can have a vital role in the unborn child's life, both emotionally and legally.

Mother's Medical Care

A father can have an enormous supportive role to play in an expecting mother's medical care. Sharing medical expenses can demonstrate a commitment to the child's well-being, which could impact parental rights after the child is born.

During the pregnancy, however, all the substantive medical decisions are generally left to the mother. Fathers are even prohibited from accessing the mother's medical records without her permission. Under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), healthcare providers may not share a patient's medical information with anyone but the patient absent the patient's consent.

Health of the Unborn Child

One exception to this rule is if the father believes the mother is engaging in activities that could jeopardize the health of the unborn child. Child abuse laws vary by state, but some provide for mothers whose alcohol or drug use creates a substantial risk to the unborn child's physical or mental health to be prosecuted or institutionalized.

If a father believes a mother's behavior threatens the health of his unborn child he should contact a child welfare office in his state. Evidence of a mother's drug or alcohol abuse during pregnancy could be grounds for greater custody and parental rights after the child is born.


All states require consent from both legal parents before a child can be adopted. In some states, these rights extend before the child is born. The key to asserting these rights however, is establishing legal paternity. Without establishing paternity, a putative father's rights regarding adoption could be limited.

To understand exactly what your rights are concerning an unborn child, you may want to consult with an experienced family law attorney in your area.

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