You learn through the social media grapevine that your ex-girlfriend just had baby. The dates make it look like you might be the dad. Happens frequently – it is part of the human experience. This is a checklist for you to get grounded and take the actions you need to if you want to be an involved father.
1. Stay calm: You will have a rush of emotions – anger at her, anger at yourself, anger at the world and fear. Maybe you had a hunch this was coming, but the reality hits you hard. To stay calm – you need to take care of yourself, sleep, healthy eating and exercise are important. Talk to friends and family that will help you stay calm – not wind you up.
2. Social media: this is not the time to air dirty laundry and vilify your ex. She is likely feeling scared and vulnerable too. She may be particularly sensitive to attacks. Lock down all your social media accounts. Make them all private. Now.
3. Clean-up: Stay away from recreational drugs and alcohol – you need all of your wits about you. If you have issues – see your doctor and get a referral to an appropriate program, and follow through with getting an appointment.
4. Parenting courses: Get into a parenting course. There are lots online and lots in most communities. Take the course and get the certificate. If this goes to court – it is meaningless to tell a judge what you are going to do – get it done. Plus, you might learn a thing or two to save you time, money and grief as a parent. Affordable and quality online courses are available too. See http://www.lifematters.com/rapid_effective_parenting.asp .
5. Talk to other parents and learn about community resources. Stop the conversation about your ex being a dirty dog for not telling you sooner blah, blah, blah– that gets old really quick. Angry dads are not fun to hang out with.
6. Open up a conversation with the mother by email. Keep it matter-of-fact and business-like. Do not pander, threaten or position. Something simple. Saying less is better.
“Hi, I learned you had a baby last week. I hope you are doing well. It seems possible that I may be the father. Can we agree to have a paternity test completed this week?”
7. How, when and where do you get a paternity test? What will it cost? Complete details for the leading Canadian DNA testing service is at http://www.easydna.ca/.
8. Plan your living conditions and stay employed. You are going to need to live in conditions appropriate to the level of relationship you want with your potential child. Planning means writing out a plan. Do not make costly changes, spend hundreds at the toy store, or rent a new apartment yet. Just line those things up so they are ready immediately when needed.
9. Retain a lawyer if you can afford it. If not, speak to a lawyer at the local family court – most have free duty counsel lawyers who you can talk to for a little while. Remember – lawyers are there to help get you what you want. They are not parenting experts and they have no concept if you should be the sole parent, shared or an access parent. They should protect your long term goals if you do not achieve them right away. Do not rely on lawyers to tell you what your goals should be; you tell lawyers what you want and they will help you get it.
10. Review the Fair Parenting Project’s website to consider the best practices for being in a shared parenting arrangement and what you can expect as your responsibilities, obligations and duties as a parent. If shared parenting is for you, offer the Fair Parenting Plan to the mother.
11. Support issues – these can be dealt with in due course. Paternity and planning parenting arrangements are the primary concerns in the immediate future.