January 23, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
This is a brief update from a case I wrote about back in 2012.
My original piece was about a Missouri man, Craig Lentz, who fathered a child with his girlfriend, Ibaanika Bond. She gave birth and, in what she has always said was a coerced act due to her postpartum depression, signed away her parental rights to the child, a boy named Noah. That looks to be the doing of an adoption agency, adoption lawyer and the adoptive parents who took the extra precaution of omitting Lentz’s name from the birth certificate.
Off the newborn boy went to Texas with his “adoptive” parents, Stuart and Megan Taylor. But Craig Lentz wasn’t to be shoved aside so easily. He signed up with the Missouri Putative Father Registry and went to court to demand genetic testing. When that showed he was the father, he pursued court action to gain custody of his son. It took him 6 ½ years to convince courts that he had the right to be a father to his son. During that time, he was allowed to see Noah regularly, but Bond, having waived her parental rights, was not. Eventually the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in Lentz’s favor and Noah left Texas and the Taylors to live with Lentz and Bond. The Taylor’s cut off all contact with him.
The Supreme Court held that, since Lentz was clearly the father, and since Missouri law states that the welfare of the child is paramount and that, in the Court’s words, “the notion of the welfare of the person sought to be adopted – the child – is informed by the fundamental proposition and presumption that maintaining the natural parent-child relationship is in the best interests of the child,” Lentz had a right to assert his parental rights.
That was too much for adoption lawyers in the state who understandably feared for their pocketbooks. Led by law professor Mary Beck, they spearheaded a movement in the state legislature to make it substantially harder for fathers to prevent the adoption of their children. I wrote about that here.
The bill that’s now before the Senate committee would make it impossible for a single father to contest the adoption of his child unless he could prove that he had done certain things:
- Consistent prenatal financial support
- Payment of prenatal and natal medical care for the mother and baby
- Child support payments proportional with his ability to pay
- Consistent contact and visitation with the child
- Assistance with educational and medical care of the child
Professor Mary Beck at the University of Missouri School of Law wrote the bill. She said this bill was written in response to the Lentz case. She said one of the goals was to clear up confusion on who could intervene in an adoption.
“It (the bill) spells out what a father needs to do to protect his constitutional parental rights,” Beck said.
Hmm. For a law professor, Beck displays a loose grasp of parents’ constitutional rights. Parents have rights to their children unless the state proves them to be unfit. That rule is usually honored in the breach, but it’s still the rule. Beck might want to read up on the matter.
That of course brings up another obvious point; Missouri already makes it hard on fathers to stop the adoption of their children. It does that via its putative father registry, but that’s now considered insufficient. Stated another way, for fathers, there’s always a new, higher hurdle to jump. The concept of abandonment worked for a while, but when fathers started stepping up to the plate, the state created a putative father registry. That succeeded for a time in keeping fathers out of their children’s lives, but fathers like Lentz figured that one out too, so it’s now time for yet another requirement.
That new requirement was contained in the new bill that Beck and her comrades in financial self-interest had ramrodded through the Missouri House. But fortunately for us, if not for them, it was not to be. House Bill 1258 passed easily in the House, but when it went to the Senate, it disappeared into the Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities Committee and died there without a vote. The last action was a public hearing, that, I suspect brought out those who believe that the only children who should be adopted are those who need to be, i.e. those without a fit mother or father to care for them.
But whatever the case, Mary Beck’s HB 1258 went the way of the dodo and hasn’t been seen since. That means dads like Craig Lentz have only the usual obstacles to clear on their way to getting custody of their children.
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