Possible paternity leave for single sailor fathers is on the radar, according to a Navy spokeswoman.

Married service members are allowed 10 days of paternity leave that is not against their other leave under a 2008 law that stresses the word "married."

Navy spokeswoman Lt. Jessica Crownover said requests for paternity leave from single service members have come in.

As such, "part of the Sailor 2025 initiative is to evaluate this law and consider how changes will improve work-life balance," Crownover said.

Army, Air Force and Marine Corps officials say the idea is not being discussed within their services, although the Marine Corps does allow single Marine father to request paternity leave under limited circumstances.

For example, when appropriate medical facilities are not available for delivery of a child, the male Marine may be authorized paternity leave to accompany his spouse before and immediately following delivery. That particular authorization may be extended to unmarried male Marines in circumstances such as — but not limited to — when the unmarried male Marine has sole custody of the baby.

A Navy veteran contends that excluding single fathers from paternity leave is discriminatory. "Does it make it any different for a married man than a single man who lives with his significant other or fiancé?" the veteran asked in a letter to Military Times. "As long as the male's name is on the birth certificate, is it any business of the Navy's if he's married or single?"

The veteran noted that Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced in July that paid maternity leave is tripled for Navy and Marine Corps mothers, from six weeks to 18 weeks.

"The least he can do is correct this transgression against single fathers who can legitimately provide documentation of their child's birth and help the mother of their child, just the same as a married man would do, to get them home and started on their new routines of life," the veteran wrote.

Officials note that the limitation to married military fathers is a requirement in law.

"The rules need to be frequently reexamined to determine if they're really respecting the variety of people they're attracting to the military," said Kenneth Matos, senior director of research at the Families and Work Institute. But he said the discussion around paternity leave is a different one in the civilian world.

The civilian world is not entirely on board with granting paternity leave, "but they don't consider marital status" in granting leave to fathers after a child's birth, he said.

According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, 20 percent of private-sector employees work for employers that offer paid paternity leave to most male employees. Statistics were not available on how many employers offer paid paternity leave specifically to single fathers, but that's not generally a relevant question in the civilian world, Matos said.

He noted that in the private sector, employers are supposed to offer unpaid paternity as well as maternity leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Research indicates about 20 percent of employers are not complying with the FMLA, he said, and a number of those cases have to do with paternity leave.

And in general, fathers may face stigma for taking paternity leave.

The question for the military becomes a cultural and organizational one, Matos said. Instead of supporting military families, he said, is the law "supporting military families that look the way we think they should?"

The civilian world has come to grips with the fact that people have children outside of marriage, he said.

"The civilian world has absorbed that — employers are not engaging in their employees' personal lives," he said.  "The question should be, 'what's best for children of military members?' "

Studies have shown that the more men are involved early on in their children's lives, the more they remain involved in their children's lives later, Matos said, adding that numerous studies have shown that an involved father benefits childrens' lives in many ways — they tend to do better in school, for example.

"Is a single father going to stay in the military if he finds the military is not going to support his fatherhood?" Matos said.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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