I recently received some articles about how casual dating apps, like Tinder, have apparently led to a boom in unplanned pregnancies, often where the people dating are not yet in a serious relationship. So, legally speaking, what happens if a casual relationship leads to pregnancy?
Child support obligations will kick in unless it can be shown that the person being asked for child support is not the biological father and has not assumed the role of the parent. It does not matter if the relationship was only a few hours old and the pregnancy was unplanned.
What if the payor parent is already financially responsible for other children when the unplanned child is on the way? By law that is not supposed to be an excuse to pay less support for additional children. Such cases have come before the Alberta courts and their response was basically that the younger children should not be financially penalized because they have older half-siblings.
However, a lower level of child support for the new children might still be justified on the notion that the payor parent truly is stretched too thin to pay the normal level of child support for them. Such an argument requires thorough preparation to have a chance at success, and one should definitely see a lawyer about making it.
Pregnancies from casual/short-term relationships generally do not lead to an obligation to support the other parent per se whereas an obligation of child support can increase or even create a spousal support obligation if the parties have cohabited for a long time before separation.
However, such unplanned pregnancies can drive down any existing spousal or partner support obligations that either parent may have towards former partners. To put it simply, child support trumps spousal support. For specific advice on your situation, please contact legal counsel.
For the first few years of a child’s life, the courts usually take the view that, while it is important for the child to form bonds with both parents, the mother is usually the primary caregiver and so the child should mostly live with mom during those years unless the parents have agreed otherwise. The father will usually receive something called “reasonable and generous parenting time” which means that he will be able to see the child as often as he can with everyone being reasonable. If there are disagreements about what this means, then the court can be asked to impose a more detailed parenting arrangement. In any case, the father can often get incrementally more parenting time such that the child is spending half of his time with the father by his early teens. You can find an overview of how courts decide parenting time in this post.
What is often forgotten is that the father of a child who was conceived through a casual, short-term relationship could have the same parenting rights as the father of a child conceived from a long-term relationship. In practice, achieving this is often difficult because the father in question will often have stayed away from the child, either of his own will or due to the mother’s wishes, for a significant part of the child’s early years. However, if the father does want to be a father to the child and gets appropriate legal advice so that an unfavourable parenting status quo does not develop, then regular and meaningful parenting time between the father and the child can usually be achieved.
Of course, the father in that situation may wish to confirm that he really is the biological father first because if it turns out that he is not the biological father but has been acting as a parental figure for some time anyway, then he may remain obligated to pay child support for some time even if he chooses to stop acting as a parent to the child.