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NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

The Benjamin Mills, Jr. case in Ohio is finally over.  All parties agreed that the adoptive mother would receive sole custody of the child and Mills's mother would have visitation.  That agreement ends the long saga. It's another case of a birth father's child being purloined by an adoption agency.  Legally, it's a lot like the Benjamin Wyrembek case with some major factual exceptions. Basically, Benjamin Mills looks like the type of dad whose loss of rights we can't get too excited about.  Mills seems to make a habit of fathering children by various women, but he also has another habit - he doesn't support them.  He's also had several charges of domestic violence against him.  Now, I'm the first to realize that charges of DV and actual commission of DV can be very different things.  But Mills was convicted, and did eight months in jail because of it. That all explains why it wasn't so much Mills as his mother who was seeking custody of the child Mills fathered 2 1/2 years ago.  After all, few courts would bend over backwards to place a child in Mills's care. Still, this article explains one of the significant ways in which the Benjamin Mills case can help to improve Ohio adoption law (Dayton Daily News, 3/19/11).  This article gives more details (Dayton Daily News, 3/19/11). Ohio has a Putative Father Registry.  In all the 29 states that have them, those registries serve to deprive biological fathers who aren't married of the right to notice of the adoption of their children and the termination of their parental rights.  That's what happens if those unmarried dads fail to file the appropriate form with the PFR. On the other hand, if they do file the form within the allotted time (in Ohio, it's within 30 days of the child's birth), they must be notified and given an opportunity to contest the adoption. But, as anyone familiar with fathers' rights in family court would expect, there's a catch.  And the Mills case highlights it. In Ohio as elsewhere, courts are required by law to check with the PFR to see if there's a dad claiming paternity of the child.  If so, he's supposed to get notice.  But here's the catch: the court has to check the PFR before the adoption can be finalized, but not before the child is placed with the adoptive parents. And that's just what happened in the Mills case.  The child was turned over to Californian Stacey Doss who intended to adopt her, and off they went to the Golden State.  As we know, once a child is in the hands of adoptive parents, it's hard for the birth father to get it back.  Benjamin Wyrembek can tell you that.  It took him three years, and at that he was luckier than many dads.
Elizabeth Gorman, attorney for birth father Benjamin Mills Jr., noted, "If the registry had been searched before the baby was taken to California, this would never have happened.'
Just so.  The simple failure of the court to check the PFR before turning over the child rather than after, resulted in wasting enormous amounts of court time, attorney time and taxpayer's money. As a practical matter, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has already started checking the PFR before placement is made, but, as its spokesperson pointed out, that's just an informal policy, not something that's required by law. So clearly, Ohio law - and that of every other state that allows placement before checking the PFR - should be changed.  No child placement should be made before reviewing PFR filings. But if Ohio really wants to improve its adoption laws, it'll repeal the law that established the PFR in the first place.  Putative Father Registries serve one and only one purpose - to make adoptions go more smoothly by cutting the dad out of the loop.  The whole point is to facilitate adoptions by depriving fathers of their legitimate parental rights. As such, PFRs are morally wrong and of course establish a different standard of parental rights based entirely on sex.  No mother in the country can have her rights terminated without a hearing and an opportunity to prove she's entitled to custody. They also violate the most minimal concepts of due process of law.  In order to terminate or diminish constitutional rights, states are normally required to give a person notice and the right to be heard by an impartial tribunal.  None of that happens with PFRs. Most men don't even know they exist.  That's because states make no effort to publicize either their existence or their draconian effects.  So the notice requirement of due process is clearly absent.  The lack of a hearing follows inevitably on the lack of notice. On the practical side of things, PFRs are the equivalent of using 1000-lb bombs for a July 4th fireworks show.  They overdo it. PFRs were first conceived of because, in a few high-profile cases, dads who hadn't been informed of a child's adoption asserted their rights months or years after the fact.  Those cases were indeed traumatic for all concerned, but scarcely warrant the deprivation of rights of all single dads whose paramours are clever enough to conceal their children from them. Face it, notifying fathers about their children shouldn't be an onerous task.  In very close to 100% of cases, the mother knows who the father is.  In some of those cases, there may be more than one possibility, but she still knows who they are.  If more than one guy may be the dad, it's a simple process to tell both and do genetic testing to sort out paternity. The problem arises because mothers don't want the dad to know.  That's exactly what happened in Benjamin Mills's case.  The mother wanted the child to be adopted and she figured the easiest way to accomplish that is to keep Mills in the dark and then lie to everyone else by saying she didn't know his identity. What PFRs do is promote exactly that sort of dishonesty.  And, as the Mills and Wyrembek cases show, they promote colossal wastes of court time and taxpayers' money. Worse, as I've said before, every time a qualified father has his child adopted via a PFR, there's a child somewhere in the world who loses out on good, loving adoptive parents.  That's because adoptive parents, both in the U.S. and around the world - are a scarce resource.  There are far, far fewer of them than there are children who need adopting.  So when parents adopt a child with a qualified father, another child with no parents goes without. That's not just a deprivation of rights; it's a tragedy.

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