When Father Doesn’t Bother: Conditioning the Failure to Establish Paternity In-Hospital on Fathers’ Presence at the Birth

Cynthia A. Osborne, University of Texas at Austin
Daniel Dillon, University of Texas at Austin

Children of unmarried parents do not have a legal father until paternity is established, a process completed by most families in the hospital at the time of the birth. Roughly one quarter of unmarried fathers do not attend the birth however, and will overwhelmingly fail to establish paternity voluntarily. This paper proposes that the failure to establish paternity in-hospital consists of two distinct circumstances, often conflated in past research— fathers’ absence from the birth, and fathers’ choice not to establish paternity when present. Using data from a longitudinal birth cohort study of approximately 800 Texas mothers who gave birth outside of marriage in 2013, we examine the failure to establish paternity in-hospital conditioning on fathers’ birth attendance. Results suggest the factors predicting non-establishment differ for each group. Birth-absence is most strongly predicted by fathers' absence from the 20-week ultrasound, while non-establishment among present fathers is associated with father doubting paternity.

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Presented in Session 2: Legal and Policy Aspects of Complex Families