After you’ve been a family lawyer for while, you begin to notice similarities in the way many people speak about their former partners. Male ex’s are often described as ‘having a problem with alcohol’ or ‘emotionally immature’. The women have ‘mental health issues like you wouldn’t believe’ and are ‘control freaks’. But one of the more poignant phenomena is the look of horror that crosses a very young man’s face when he’s told that it is in fact true that he is legally responsible for the financial support of a child for the next 18 years. (He can barely support a round at the pub at this point and he’s still living at home.) “But I only knew her for, like, 10 minutes….” he says. Yes.
But there is little known additional legal responsibility that is likely to increase the despair of the boy. This girl he knew for 10 minutes – he is liable to support her too! Under section 67B of the Family Law Act, where a child’s parents are not married to each other, the child’s father must contribute to the mother’s reasonable expenses for the ‘childbirth maintenance period’ which is for at least two months before the birth, and for three months afterwards. The costs that can be covered include the mother’s general living expenses; furniture, clothing and nappies for the baby. Additional expenses can be claimed for hospital, pharmaceutical and medical expenses associated with the pregnancy and birth.
If the father does not meet his obligations to maintain the unmarried mother of his child willingly, the mother can apply to the court for an order, under section 67B, requiring him to pay. In making its decision, the court must consider the capacity of the father to pay and a number of other matters but the length of the relationship is not one of them.
Applications to the court for orders for childbirth maintenance must be made within twelve months after the birth of a child unless permission is granted by the court to apply later.
In the 2014 case of Abrahams v Simm, the mother applied to the court for payment of $27,061 for her maintenance across the childbirth period and additional expenses for the baby. The expenses she claimed included the cost of a birthing partner, a settling swing for the baby, and the costs of her private health insurance. The father responded that he only had a spare $47 per week! In the end, the court ruled that the father should pay $7,000 for the expense of the mother over the childbirth maintenance period, and another $7,000 for medical expenses relating to the pregnancy and birth, all of it payable within 60 days of the date of the orders.
The lessons here? For men: think with your heads, not…and get them out of the sand. For women: know your rights. If you’re struggling as a single mother, and the father of your child doesn’t know about childbirth maintenance, find a way to let him know about it and try to negotiate some cooperation. A community-based family dispute resolution practitioner can help you do this. You need to be talking together about the shape of the future in any case. That horrified boy is about to grow up. And, in the end, of course, he’ll be very glad that he did.
  FCCA 67