The right to be at your child's birth is typically not an issue for parents who are united couples. However, parents whose relationships have ended (if there was a “relationship” at all) may be in conflict over the father's wish to be present at the birth of his child. First, it's important to stress that as far as New Jersey is concerned, it's a privilege, not a right to be in the birthing room. The mother, after all, has a right to privacy during such an intimate, highly invasive medical procedure. Even with married or committed couples, the mother would have the right to insist on being alone with medical staff, or selected individuals during the birthing process.
This policy, however, isn't just about the mother's right to privacy. It also deals with the legal definition of parental rights, and the exact point at which that begins for a father. While this is normally a private matter between spouses or partners, the issue may have to be decided by the courts for parents who no longer see eye to eye. Based on case law, the courts have have established several guidelines: 1) Paternity rights, beyond the right to determine paternity, cannot exist prior to the child's birth (hence no child support is paid prior to the birth); 2) A pre-birth order mandating a father's name to be put on a birth certificate is unnecessary and inappropriate; 3) However, a father can enter a certificate of parentage with the appropriate state agency prior to the child's birth.
The rationale behind these guidelines largely centers around the child's best interest, specifically whether immediate or irreparable harm would come from barring the father from pre-birth actions like being in the delivery room. For example, would the child be in danger of irreparable harm, or would the relationship between father and child be irreparably damaged as a result of the father being denied certain pre-birth privileges? The problem here is that the question is generally unanswerable until the child is born. Making assumptions about potential harm doesn't work for the family courts, especially when they have to consider the mother's right to privacy. These rights stem from numerous precedents, including Roe v. Wade, the US Supreme Court case that legalized abortion. Just as abortion is about a woman's right to privacy over her own body, so is giving birth, regardless of whether a child has an acknowledged father.
This ruling does unfortunately leave some fathers in a bad place, but speaking to a family law attorney about your parental rights can help. An experienced attorney can assist with actions like paternity testing and filing a certificate of parentage. They can also follow up with other court actions if the mother refuses to let you sign the birth certificate, which has to be done within five days after the child's birth. For more information on paternity rights in New Jersey, please speak with the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.