When the U.S, government passed laws in 2006 enacting the new parent-rights portions of the Work and Families Act, they extended pay and leave for new parents, including men on paternity leave. Working dads have been eligible for up to two weeks of paid leave since 2003, but the new measures extend these benefits. Statutory Maternity Pay, Maternity Allowance and Statutory Adoption Pay have been extended from 39 weeks to 52, with working fathers entitled to take an extra 26 weeks off of work to care for their child, if the mom has returned to work and has not used all of her eligible maternity leave.
These employer-supplied benefits are of course only available if your employer is a regular tax and benefits-paying entity. Those who are independent contractors or employed on a part-time basis may not be eligible for these benefits. Eligibility is also determined by requirements such as the father must be the biological father of the baby or married to the mother, and expected to share in responsibilities related to rearing the child.
Timing is also important for eligibility and the father is expected to work for the same employer from the time of conception until the time of birth, with leave scheduled starting only when the baby is due, and arrives. Taking time off early might negate your eligibility, so be sure to carefully look over the rules and guidelines. You need to notify your employer of your intentions to take leave by the 15th week before the estimated due date. You can take the leave any time after the birth; it does not have to immediately follow the day the baby is born.
Men on paternity leave is becoming a more common phenomenon than ever before, with the paternity leave being extended to include unpaid time off, after the eligible time period for benefits expires. With the previous disparity in wages that was so clearly sex-defined being narrowed, more women than ever are bringing home as much or more money than their partners. This can potentially free up the formerly “conventional” situation where the mom stays home and raises the kids while dad works outside the home, to a more non-traditional family set-up, where dad stays home and mom goes to work.
It has raised a whole new crop of social issues as well, related to conventional gender roles in our society, and how best to raise a child with the new option of dad staying home. Since more and more people are finding it financially and socially viable to have the father be the primary care-giver and mom be the bread winner, whole social networks are now available to dads who need peers with similar experiences, and moms who have to deal with the stress of being away from their children. Conventional family settings have of course always been that mom stays and dad works, and the new dynamic inherent with choosing a different path brings a new set of challenges to both parents and children.