Parental Leave For Non-Birthing Partners – A Detailed Guide

Taking parental leave can be complicated and challenging enough for mothers, but when it comes to any other parental figures that are involved, the options available are even more limited.

Parental leave for non-birthing partners is rarely an option in the US, and it can be particularly hard to navigate for same-sex partners and other members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Even birth fathers are not entitled to any kind of leave under federal law.

Read on to find out more about what parental leave for non-birthing partners means, and what options might actually be out there.

Why Is Parental Leave So Important?

The United States is widely considered to offer some of the worst maternity leave protections out of all the richest countries in the world, but at least something is available to birth and adopting mothers.

Paid maternity leave is only available to less than half of all US mothers, though, despite the fact that it has been shown to be an incredibly important factor for the health and well-being of both the mother and the child.

Studies have shown that paid maternity leave can:

  • Improve the physical and mental health of mothers and children

  • Reduce the risk of hospitalization for mothers and children

  • Reduce the instances of intimate partner abuse and child abuse

Parental Leave For Non-Birthing Partners and Fathers

When it comes to any amount of leave of absence for fathers, there is even less on offer.

According to some statistics, only 9% of companies in the United States offer any kind of paid leave for fathers, and more than three-quarters of all new dads are back at work within a week of the birth of their new child.

As for partners that might not fit the strict definition of a “birth father”, it can be even more difficult to take time off.

Research suggests that parental leave for non-birthing partners is important for a number of reasons, including:

  • Improving mental and physical health outcomes for both parents

  • Reducing negative gender and sexuality stereotypes

  • Providing children with strong alternative role models

  • Improving parent-child relationships for non-birthing partners

  • Combating gender inequality in the workplace

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What Does Parental Leave Mean for Non-Birthing Partners?

There are more than 11 million adults in the United States that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ+), which means that millions of American parents might not be considered a traditional mother-and-father couple.

The terminology of any leave of absence policy is really critical for non-birthing parents, and it can mean the difference between having equal rights and not.

“Parental Leave” is a much more open term that, when included in a legal policy, can potentially be applied to parents that are not birth mothers and birth fathers.

The terms “Maternity Leave” and “Paternity Leave”, however, are often used to apply more strictly to birth mothers and birth fathers, leaving many parents with fewer rights.

Parental Leave Options For Fathers and Non-Birthing Partners

In the United States, the only federally mandated leave requirement that employers have to offer is 12 weeks of maternity leave, which does not need to be paid.

Any parent that is not considered the child’s primary birth or adoptive mother does not necessarily fit into this policy, including same-sex partners. 

State laws and individual company policies can also be restrictive in terms of the language that they use.

Taking Parental Leave in an LGBTQ+ Relationship

If you are an LGBTQ+ parent or a non-birthing parent of any kind, then you will need to be especially well-informed if you want to take parental leave.

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) may allow you to take 12 weeks of unpaid time off as maternity leave.

The FMLA was also revised in 2015 to change the definition of “spouse” to make sure that employees in legal same-sex marriages and common-law marriages would be equally eligible.

Even so, FMLA leave is unpaid, and many non-birthing partners may find themselves ineligible regardless of the changes, due to their marital status or their relationship with their new child.

Therefore, you might need to rely on vacation time, parental or family leave from your company, or other local regulations.

In that case, you will need to make sure you are aware of your legal rights, specifically in regard to the state that you live in.

California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington all support paid family and medical leave, and Connecticut, Oregon, and Colorado are expected to start providing these same benefits soon.

Companies That Offer Equal Parental Leave

While some countries are more generous about the legal offerings that employers need to provide when it comes to parental leave, the laws in the US mean that it is mainly up to your employer.

Not many companies offer parental leave to both parents, particularly when it comes to parents in LGBTQ+ couples.

There are a few that do, though. Some of the best examples of big companies with inclusive policies that do not discriminate by gender or sexuality include:

  • Netflix

  • Etsy

  • Lululemon

  • Dropbox

  • Hewlett-Packard.

Wherever you work, you need to carefully examine their leave of absence policy to see what you are legally entitled to as a parent.

Summary: What Parental Leave For Non-Birthing Partners

So, what are the options for parental leave if you are not a birthing partner? It can be pretty challenging.

Federal law in the US only requires companies to offer unpaid maternity leave, and the definition of a “primary caregiver” who might be eligible is not always inclusive depending on your state’s regulations.

Many non-birthing partners need to rely on a company’s specific parental leave policy, or even vacation time, to get the time off that they need.


Are partners entitled to maternity leave?

In the US, and many other countries, only one member of a couple may take maternity leave, even if both partners are the same sex. In most instances, the other partner would need to take paternity leave or shared parental leave.

Can a female partner take paternity leave?

The rules for paternal leave in some countries (and the policies for some companies) allow female partners to take paternity leave. In the US, however, the policies and leave laws in local areas can focus on traditional caregivers, such as birth or adoptive mothers and birth fathers.

Are men entitled to paternity leave?

In the US, there is no federal mandate that requires companies to offer paternity leave to men. Many countries around the world, however, do ensure that all new fathers are entitled to some paternal leave from work.

Related Post: What Parental Leave Means For Dads And Non-Birthing Partners

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