Biological Fathers' Rights

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Lack of attention to biological fathers' rights can have serious consequences, a lesson courts are handing down with more and more frequency. While the Baby Sam case filled the headlines for several years, this certainly wasn't the first case where a father's rights have landed on the front page.

The Baby M Case

In 1996, Baby M was relinquished by her mother and placed with Darrell and Cindy Matthews. Alphonso Andrews, the baby's father, never signed any consent forms and contested the placement. A Pennsylvania State Supreme Court ruling sent a message to adoption agencies and attorneys about failure to get consent from both birth parents. Genesis of Pittsburgh, Inc. failed to get Andrews' approval for the placement and, as a result, custody of Baby M is being decided four years - instead of a matter of days or weeks - after placement, a bittersweet victory for Andrews and a devastating one for the Matthews.

Arguments in the case included comparisons of Andrews' and the Matthews' education and financial stability, which caused one lower court judge to rule initially in favor of the Matthews; however, the higher court found that neither the agency nor the Matthews had proper authority to assume the role of parent. A baby cannot be adopted without the termination or relinquishment of both parents' rights, and Andrews' rights were alive and well.

Andrews is quoted as saying, "They said it was for the best interest of the child. But that is not their child. It is mine. I can't help it that they are unable to have children. That doesn't give them the right to take mine."

Biological Fathers Do Have Rights

A woman making an adoption plan may conceal the pregnancy from the biological father or indicate that the father has no interest in the child when this may not be the case. Unless the father learns of the pregnancy and/or the adoption plan and moves to stop it, the adoption will proceed. While most fathers either agree to an adoption plan or do not contest termination of their parental rights, there are those who want to parent their children, and some are exercising that right.

In September, 1999, the Oklahoma State Supreme Court ruled in favor of Joseph Ferguson, giving him custody of the son he learned about only two days before the adoption agency moved to terminate his parental rights. The baby's mother had never told Ferguson about the pregnancy and placement had been made with a family in another state.

Like Alphonso Andrews in Pennsylvania, Ferguson sympathizes with the couple who planned to adopt his son saying, "I believe they entered the adoption process in good faith, and it's unfortunate that it had to come to this."

Putative Father Registries

If you think you are the father of a child and you want to have a say in whether the child is adopted, you can register with the Putative Father Registry if your state has one, or take other measures to protect your rights. Even if you signed the child's birth certificate and are under 18 or 21 years of age (depending on the state), you can register to make the best effort to protect your rights.
A 'putative father' is a man who may be a child's father, but who was not married to the child's mother before the child was born and has not established the fact that he is the father in a court proceeding. If the child's mother wants to place the child for adoption, the putative father must take steps to show that he is the legal father of the child if he wants to have any say in the adoption. By registering with the Putative Father Registry, a father takes one step toward proving he is the child's father.
(State of Illinois)
However, along with those rights come responsibilities. These can include medical expenses during the pregnancy and support payments. Know your rights and responsibilites. If you do want to register on a putative father registry or sign some other form of paternity recognition form, be sure that you understand how this will affect your future right to parent or obtain custody, as well as the financial responsibilities.

Risk in Adoption

Many states have provisions for a period of time during which a birth parent may change his/her mind about placement after signing relinquishment papers. In those states, agencies and attorneys are obligated to advise adopting parents that this could occur; however in all cases and all states, it is important that agencies and attorneys make every effort to meet with both biological parents to secure proper consent. Cutting corners only increases the risk that the placement will be challenged or overturned.

Adopting parents must also take responsibility for asking the right questions and making sure everyone's rights are being protected. They should know what their state considers grounds for reversal of an adoption (such as coercion) and become proactive in the process of ensuring their adoption is being handled ethically and according to best practices. When adopting parents, in the excitement of seeing their family dreams become a reality, don't ask the hard questions, they could face the enormous heartbreak of reversal of the placement.

Adopting parents: Ask the tough questions. Hold your agency or attorney accountable. Knowing that the placement meets all legal requirements is an important beginning for your new family.

Biological parents: Know your rights, and understand the importance of openness and honesty in making your adoption plan. If parenting is an option for one, that needs to be explored before placement is considered.

It cannot be said often enough: Knowledge empowers! When adopting parents are comfortable with the legalities of birth parent consent, they can focus their energies on parenting. And when biological parents make informed decisions, the best interest of the child will be better served. Both sets of parents must do their best - even in this time of roller-coaster emotions, to ensure ethical and legal practices are observed. Knowledge makes it possible.

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Visitor Comments (87)
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nakita - 4 weeks ago
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Monica Brown - 2 weeks ago
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