A putative father has no right to be notified that the expectant mother is in labor nor to be present in the delivery room if the mother objects, a New Jersey judge says in an apparent case of first impression nationwide.
Ruling in a dispute between estranged, unmarried parents, Superior Court Judge Sohail Mohammed held that a woman’s right to privacy and to control her body during pregnancy allows her to shut the father out.
“A finding in favor of plaintiff for both notification and forced entry into the delivery room would in fact be inconsistent with existing jurisprudence on the interests of women in the children they carry pre-birth,” he wrote in Plotnick v. DeLuccia.
“It would create practical concerns where the father’s unwelcomed presence could cause additional stress on the mother and child. Moreover, such a finding would also lead to a slippery slope where the mother’s interest could be subjugated to that of the father’s.”
Mohammed said in his opinion, published March 10, that according to his research, “the issues of whether a putative father has a right to be notified when a woman enters labor, and whether a father has a right to be present at the child’s birth over the mother’s objection, have never been litigated in New Jersey or the United States.”
Steven Plotnick and Rebecca DeLuccia began a relationship in late 2012. Soon after DeLuccia learned she was pregnant in February 2013, Plotnick proposed marriage and DeLuccia accepted, but their engagement ended by September. They each retained counsel, who negotiated over Plotnick’s request to be involved in the pregnancy and in the child’s life afterward. In November, as the date of delivery neared, Plotnick filed for an order to show cause seeking the right to be notified when DeLuccia went into labor and to be present at delivery, among other relief.
Mohammed, who sits in Passaic County, held a hearing Nov. 19, 2013, in which DeLuccia participated telephonically from the hospital, where she had gone into labor. He denied the relief from the bench. DeLuccia delivered the child later the same day.
Mohammed cited the doctrine of Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), that women have the right to control their bodies during pregnancy. He also cited Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), which struck down a state law requiring married women to notify their husbands before having an abortion.
In addition, the New Jersey Supreme Court held in Kinsella v. NYT Television, 382 N.J. Super 102 (2005), that disclosure of a patient’s hospital admission to the would violate the New Jersey Hospital Patient Bill of Rights.
Plotnick also sought the right to sign the birth certificate on the day of the birth, to have the child bear his surname and to obtain an order granting him parenting time.
Mohammed held the request for parenting time was not ripe for judicial consideration, since the best interests of the child cannot be determined before birth, said. Entering a pre-birth order granting the father’s application to be named on the birth certificate on the day of birth or his request for the child to have his surname, would be inappropriate because the mother did not consent to those actions, he said.
DeLuccia’s application for counsel fees was denied, based on a finding that both parties advanced reasonable positions and neither acted in bad faith.
Plotnick’s lawyer, Laura Nunnick of November & Nunnick in Glen Rock, said she “assumed [fathers] have equal rights to be there” at childbirth. She said the ruling was “a well-reasoned decision, although I was upset for fathers and their rights.” Her client was eventually able to see the baby in the nursery.
DeLuccia’s lawyer Joanna Brick, a Fair Lawn solo, says the ruling correctly focuses on the mother’s privacy, noting that during childbirth, she was “partially naked. Why should she expose herself in the most personal, intimate moment of her life?”
Brick says the ruling is significant because there is scant case law on disputes among unmarried parents, even though such litigation is prolific.
Brian Schwartz, chairman of the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Family Law Section, says the decision “clears up the issue for once and for all that the woman gets to make that decision” about who is present when she gives birth, and is a “good opinion for moms to know they have a safe haven in the hospital.”