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Unwed Fathers:

Preventing Your Infant from Being Adopted Without Your Consent

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Father holding yawning baby
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Summary

An unwed father has no absolute right to veto an adoption, but must take action to preserve his right to veto an adoption. Whether mom is considering adoption or not, you should, as soon as possible, preferably before the birth, (1) formally acknowledge paternity, (2) give the mother reasonable and consistent economic support (like paying her medical and child care bills, and sending her money), (3) regularly visit and communicate with the mother and the child, and (4) sign the relevant putative father registries. Being present at the birth and signing the birth certificate also helps. Consult the National Directory of Putative Father registries to locate your state's registry. Before the birth, consult an attorney experienced in adoption about preserving your parental rights. In addition to the advice your lawyer offers, ask the attorney about acknowledging paternity, bringing a paternity action, and getting a court order to keep the child in your state and out of the hands of a third party. Never abuse, threaten, or implicitly threaten mom in any way. Do not rely on mom. (This article does not concern state-initiated adoptions in child neglect, dependency, abuse cases, etc.)

Specifics

Adoption

An adoption is a court order making a non-parent a parent of the child. Before the order can be entered, the parental rights of the biological, or previous parent, must be terminated. In most states, adoptions can proceed with or without an adoption agency. But all adoptions must go through court. When the biological parent objects to the adoption in court, the proceeding becomes a contested adoption. Contested adoption proceedings have six general stages:

  • (1) Relinquishment. The mother relinquishes the child to a placing agency or a private couple.

  • (2) Petition. The lawyer for the agency or adoptive parents files a petition with the court, alleging, typically, that the father has abandoned the child or not supported the mother. (See Section II for other termination grounds.)

  • (3) Notice. The father receives the petition by certified mail, personal service, or ordinary mail. If the father cannot be located, then, depending on the state's rules, he may be given notice by publication in a newspaper.

  • (4) Answer. The father files an answer to the petition, wherein he objects to, or asks the court to dismiss, the adoption.

  • (5) Consent hearing. In court, the petitioner must prove that the father is unfit, or has otherwise waived or lost his parental rights. If dad prevails, the adoption cannot proceed without his consent. If the petitioner prevails, the court may hold a hearing to determine if the adoption would serve the child's best interests.

  • (6) Best interest hearing. States vary as to what constitutes child's best interests. Generally, courts assess who can provide a more stable and permanent family relationship for the child. The petitioner usually prevails. If so, the court orders the adoption, terminating the father's parental rights and ordering the adoption. If the father prevails, the court denies the petition.

  • Your goal is to avoid reaching the best interest hearing. You do this in two ways:

    • (1) doing what you need to do to get notice of the adoption petition (stage three), and

    • (2) doing what you need to do to be found fit at the consent hearing (stage five)

I. Doing what you need to do to get notice of the adoption petition.

Your rights about getting notice of an adoption vary depending on whether you are a presumed father or a putative father.

A. Difference between presumed and putative father.

Presumed fathers are men who were married to the mother during the pregnancy or have legally established their paternity before the adoption petition was filed. Putative fathers are men who were not married to the mother during the pregnancy and have not established their paternity before the adoption petition was filed. They are alleged biological fathers only. If you are not married to mom, and have not established paternity legally, you are a putative father. If you establish paternity after the adoption petition is filed, then you most likely are still a putative father, and the state's putative father laws still apply to you.

Both types of fathers are entitled to notice of an adoption proceeding involving their child before the adoption can proceed. But putative fathers usually must take active measures to receive notice of the adoption. Presumed fathers, however, are usually entitled by law to actual notice of an adoption. In addition, the standard for terminating a presumed father's parental rights in adoption is higher than that for putative fathers. As a putative father then, you need to pursue presumed fatherhood. Obviously, you may lack time to become a presumed father before the adoption petition is filed.

Thus, you must pursue your parental rights yourself by doing certain things.

Those things vary from state to state. Generally you must sign the putative father registry of the state where the petition is ultimately filed--if that state has a registry--and formally acknowledge paternity.

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