Implications of Post-Roe v. Wade in Child Custody

roe v wade for georgia post

Implications of Post-Roe v. Wade in Child Custody

June, 24th of 2022 is a date that changed history here in the United States. It’s the day that the Supreme Court published its opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, wherein it announced the overturn of Roe v. Wade, a landmark decision that created a constitutional right to abortion. At Bloom Lines Alexander LLC, we know this overruling of almost 50 years of precedent will have historic impacts on the number of children being born, therefore the need for mothers to secure support, fathers to secure legal rights, and parents to establish parenting time (also known as visitation) schedules, to name a few.

In this blog post, we will discuss some of the unique issues this creates for both the mother and the father, the current laws in Georgia regarding access to abortion, and how these laws could be enforced.

The Laws in Effect Now

Georgia’s current law, colloquially known as the “Heartbeat Bill,” went into effect on July 20th, 2022, and bans abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected, which typically occurs in the sixth week of pregnancy.

One of the major issues with the law is that many women are not even aware they are pregnant prior to the sixth week of gestation.

Thus, there are going to be many instances when a pregnant woman loses her right to seek an abortion prior to even discovering her pregnancy. While there are some limited exceptions within the law, such as permitting abortions in the case of rape or incest if a police report is filed, as well as if the mother’s life is at risk or a serious medical condition renders a fetus unviable, opponents of the law argue it is essentially an outright ban on abortion in Georgia.

Setting aside the obvious criminal law implications brought into play by Georgia’s law on abortion, it will have profound impacts on the practice of family law, and raise interesting questions moving forward. For example, in 2019 Georgia enacted a law determining that after six weeks an unborn fetus has the same rights as any other living person. These two laws, taken together, beg questions such as whether a mother can seek child support for a seven-week-old fetus. Or, does a father have a right to “parenting time” with the fetus as if it had already been born. These questions, and others that have likely not even been thought of at this early stage, will need to be answered by lawmakers and the Georgia courts in the coming years. In the meantime, however, there are plenty of other “known” issues created by the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Unmarried Couples and Parental Rights

The likely impact of the overturning of Roe v. Wade is an uptick in children born out of wedlock, i.e., to unmarried couples. This highlights a unique issue in Georgia when it comes to parental rights to a child.

Bloom Lines Alexander LLC attorney William Alexander points out that fathers in the state of Georgia do not have any legal rights to the child whatsoever until they are "legitimated" by a court order. Alexander says that fact is something many people don’t know until the mother and father have already split up.

Many fathers also do not understand the complexity of the legitimation process, and that it likely includes issues such as parenting time/visitation, custodial rights, and child support. Now that abortions past six weeks are all but illegal in Georgia, he expects to see more of these complex legitimation cases come up. With more and more people forced to carry pregnancies to term, there are going to be more children who need support, and more parents who need to establish custody rights. Any one of those items – parenting time, custodial rights, and child support – usually requires the assistance of an attorney, and now attorneys with knowledge and experience handling such cases are going to be needed more.

Pregnancy and childbirth, in any situation, whether wanted or unwanted, involves increased medical appointments, significant physical changes, and emotional turmoil. Whether it is a result of the medical costs, complications resulting in missed work, or the preparations for welcoming a new child into the home, pregnancy is expensive—even before the child is born. As a result of this, some women forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term may be more likely to remain with physically or emotionally abusive partners, or in generally unhealthy relationships, out of fear of facing the financial toll of pregnancy and child-rearing on their own. 

Fortunately, that does not have to be the case. Even if the father of a child does not want to be in the child’s life, or it is not in the child’s best interests to have the father in the child’s life, the mother is still entitled to seek child support from the father. In fact, in cases involving unwed parents, a mother seeking to establish child support can seek to recover her expenses incurred during her pregnancy.

That is why it is so important to have an experienced attorney, like those with Bloom Lines Alexander, guide you through this process of seeking child support. It’s the first step in providing you and your new child with a happy, healthy, and financially stable future.
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