Having a Baby: Your Legal Rights and Responsibilities

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The little stick turned blue. Your hopes are confirmed. You are pregnant!

This is one of the biggest, most life changing events you will ever experience. So, once you get past the initial excitement about the impending baby, the frenzy of baby booties and the mountains of unsolicited advice from friends and loved ones, it is important to consider the practical matters of bringing a new life into the world. Matters like legal preparation.

 

Your Pregnancy

Having a baby starts with a pregnancy. Most women are perfectly healthy and able to work or go to school normally. Some, on the other hand, face complications. Several women perform work that may be considered hazardous to the growing baby; other times women are ill and unable to complete their normal tasks.

Employers are required, under federal law, to treat pregnancy the same way they would any other temporary disability. If the pregnant woman is still able to work, employers can assign different, more accessible tasks or modify duties if there are other job functions she can perform. The pregnancy may require short term disability leave. In this case, pay or payments will be made based on corporate and state policies pertaining to disability. If you have sick time or vacation time accumulated, your employer needs to let you use it during your absence. So, it is wise to investigate your disability insurance coverage and paid time off you may have before you get pregnant.

Maternity Leave

As the full term of your pregnancy draws near, you are probably thinking about maternity leave. Some women work up to the day - or hour - they give birth. Others prefer to take off a little time before the baby comes.

Like disability insurance, maternity leave policies vary depending on your company and the state in which you live. However, no matter where you reside in the U.S., you are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act. In most instances, if your office has at least 50 employees at your location and you have worked for a minimum of 12 consecutive months (with a total of 1250 hours), you are guaranteed at least 12 weeks off from work. This leave is not limited to mothers; the father of the baby can take paternity leave and take off 12 weeks of his own. What if mom and dad are not married? As long as the dad can prove he is the biological father (in most cases having his name on the birth certificate is adequate), he is entitled to the leave under federal law. Many couples use this to make sure that their newborn is taken care of by a parent for the first several months.

The bad news? You are not guaranteed any sort of pay for this time off; although, you will be assured of getting your job back. But, you may be able to get paid under your disability policy, if you have one. For example, in California, a woman may take off up to four weeks before the birth of her baby and up to six weeks after a normal delivery and receive some compensation under the state disability program.

Baby Is Here... What Now?

Baby has arrived and you're all settling into your new life. More than just getting used to late nights and early mornings, you still have to ensure your rights and protect the health, safety and well-being of your baby. Use this checklist to make sure you have everything covered.

Health insurance: If you are covered under your employer's health benefits program, you should find out what is involved in adding your baby to your policy. Some plans require the employee to pay additional premiums, while other plans are all-inclusive. If you do not have health insurance, look into private policies you can purchase or state coverage for low-income families. Ensure your new baby's health needs are covered.

Breast Feeding: Breast milk is healthy for babies, less expensive than formula and very portable. It may be the most natural thing in the world, but breastfeeding in public is not legally protected everywhere. While a majority of states in the U.S. have legislation entitling women to breastfeed their babies in any public or private location, others do not protect this right and women who expose their breasts even to feed their babies may be subject to public indecency laws. In addition, several states require employers to provide space and time for breastfeeding mothers to express breast milk during their workdays. It is important for mothers to check their individual state's laws to see what protections are offered.

Estate Planning: While you probably do not want to consider your own passing, it is important that you think about it long enough to do some estate planning. The most important thing to do is to choose a guardian to take care of your baby, in the event that something happens to you. If you have not indicated your wishes in this matter, the courts will make a guardianship determination that may be contrary to what you would have wanted.

Also, to ensure your baby's financial future, you will want to name a trustee to look after your baby's finances. Make sure that you have ample life insurance to see to your baby's needs if you are no longer around.

Babies = Responsibility

As you can see, the responsibility of having a baby is not limited to making sure your little bundle is diapered and fed. However, with a good understanding of your insurance, legal rights and the assistance available to you, you will be well prepared.