Your Legal Rights
Hey guys! Not being talked about much? We need to change that!
Experts point out that only a very small percentage of birth fathers historically have taken an active part in the decisions surrounding adoption. Though, in recent years some agencies have reported a quarter or more relinquishment’s including an active involvement of birth fathers. 1
The rights of birth fathers vary by state in the U.S. Any father can be involved in an adoption plan if the birth mother agrees. Many states require fathers to assert their parental rights within a given time frame by taking necessary steps to establish paternity, or registering with the state putative father registry. Some birth fathers have the right to be notified if a child has been conceived, or when the child’s mother is making an adoption plan.
If you are fathering a child whose mother is considering adoption, share her concern for the child you have together. Even if you and the mother are no longer involved, your child needs you to make important decisions about his or her future. During the adoption process, a birth father can be involved in the counseling process from the beginning. This way, a birth father can offer ongoing support to the child’s mother and ensure that his wishes and rights are considered. The father and mother can consider their options together to come up with the best possible plan for the child.
If you are a birth father, this is what you need to know:
1) All reputable adoption agencies and attorneys follow certain procedures to ensure that birth fathers (if they can be located) are aware of the adoption plans and know their rights. This is done by:
- Serving legal notices to the birth father during the mother’s pregnancy, if he is not involved with the mother. This notice informs the birth father of the pending adoption and tells him what he needs to do if he wants to stop the process.
- Making sure the birth father is involved in the adoption process and legal aspects of the adoption as much as possible
- Treating the birth father with the same amount of parental rights as the mother has with the child
- Having the birth father sign the same necessary legal papers as the birth mother to consent to the adoption
2) If the birth father’s name is known, but his whereabouts are unknown…
- Depending on the state, the adoption agency or attorney must make reasonable efforts to locate the birth father, such as making phone calls, writing letters, etc.
- The amount of time that a father has to respond to the notification also varies by state. Usually it’s a few weeks. If he cannot be located or doesn’t respond within that time frame, the adoption can move forward.
- If an adoption agency or attorney cannot find the birth father, but the adoption proceeds, can the father appear later and, by claiming not to know what was going on, reclaim his parental rights? This answer depends on the laws in his state. In some states, the birth father may obtain a court hearing; in other states, he may not.
3) If the birth father’s name is unknown and he cannot be found…
- Depending on the birth mother’s state laws, the adoption agency or attorney checks the putative father registry. If no name is found on the registry, the attorney or agency places legal notices in a publication (usually in local newspapers) notifying the public that the adoption is about to transpire and that the father of the child must come forward if he wants to stop the adoption proceedings.
4) If the birth father is not in agreement with the adoption, he has the right to take legal action. If the father is married to the birth mother, he is declared the presumed father and his parental rights are much more protected. However, if he is not married to the mother of the child, then he is considered a putative father.
- In virtually all states, a child cannot be adopted without the consent of the birth father if the biological parents are either married or were married within a certain time period before the birth of the child.
- If the biological parents are not married, but lived together either at the time of the child’s birth or at a certain time before the child’s birth, some states require consent of the birth father.
- If the biological parents were never married and have never lived together, most states do not require the birth father’s consent before placing a child for adoption. The birth father is given notice of the intent to place the child for adoption, and if he does not challenge the adoption, his parental rights are terminated. If he does challenge the adoption, a court hearing will be held to determine whether the adoption is in the best interest of the child.
5) If the birth father seeks to challenge the adoption, he must take action to preserve his right to veto the adoption. Laws on paternity rights and adoption vary from state to state. Preserving a birth father’s rights to veto the adoption can be done by:
- Formally acknowledging paternity by signing the relevant putative father registries (Thus, consulting the National Directory of Putative Father registries to locate his state’s registry)
- Consulting an attorney experienced in adoption and preserving parental rights. In addition to the advice an attorney offers, the father should ask the attorney about acknowledging paternity, bringing a paternity action, and getting a court order to keep the child in his state and out of the hands of a third party.
- Giving the mother reasonable and consistent economic support and attempting to act responsibly towards the mother and the child (such as paying the mothers medical bills, sending her money, etc.)
- Being present at the birth of the child and signing the birth certificate
- Regularly visiting and communicating with the mother and the child
- Never abuse, threaten, or implicitly threaten the mother