October 10, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
When discussing putative father registries, proponents often make the claim that they’re good for single fathers because they allow them to avail themselves of their parental rights. Laws that were passed to facilitate adoptions by removing single fathers from the adoption process become, in the words of PFR enthusiasts, a boon to the very fathers whose rights they circumvent. I’d say it doesn’t get much more hypocritical than that except that, of course, the whole thing is done to line the pockets of adoption lawyers and agencies. Naturally, they’re the very ones who usually make the specious claim.
For those not yet in the know, putative father registries were invented back in the 1970s, first in the State of New York. Prior to that time, and in some states afterward, the news was full of fathers asserting their parental rights after children, fathered by them, had been adopted. The usual scenario had an unmarried man having intimate relations with a woman who, unknown to him became pregnant. She gave birth to the child and placed it for adoption, all without his knowledge or consent. At some point later, he learned about his child and the adoption and went to court to get his child back.
Those dads were often successful at doing so. That’s because state laws at the time required a parent to have “abandoned” a child for his/her parental rights to be terminated. Abandonment required knowledge of his child and an intentional refusal to act as a parent to it.
The requirement of abandonment made adoptions tricky. Without the presence of Dad in court willingly relinquishing his rights, any adoption was problematical. Who knew when a father might show up? That put a chill on the adoption process and therefore on the earnings of adoption attorneys and agencies.
Putative father registries were intended to wire around all that. They do so by placing a legal requirement on all single men who have sexual intercourse with a woman to file a form with the appropriate state agency informing same of their claim of paternity of any child that may result.
Now, as I’ve said before, the deficiencies of PFRs are obvious for all to see. Most importantly, they place the burden of knowing about a child on a person who may well not know. The sensible thing to do would be require women who give birth to identify the father or, if more than one man may be the dad, all possible fathers. That man could then come forward to assert his rights. Failure to do so would mean he relinquished them. Simple. But incredibly, PFR’s place the legal burden on the person who doesn’t know whether a child came into the world or not.
Then there’s the fact that few states make any effort to let men know (a) that they have a PFR, (b) what a PFR is (c) how to register or (d) the consequences of not registering. Most states budget no money to inform single fathers of any of that.
That’s no surprise. After all, given that the sole intention of the registries is to cut unmarried fathers out of the adoption loop, what sense would it make to let men know about them? So, once the U.S. Supreme Court issued its stamp of approval in 1979, states rushed to enact their own PFRs. Now at least 29 states have some version of a PFR.
But don’t take my word for it. Just check out the case of Utah native Jake Strickland, the latest on which is reported here (Salt Lake Tribune, 10/8/14). For more information, here’s the lawsuit Strickland and other fathers have filed in federal court against various past attorneys general of the State of Utah. In brief, the repeated fraudulent conduct of the mother of Strickland’s child has so far been insufficient to stop the its adoption against his wishes and without his knowledge. The reason? He failed to register with the state PFR. Why didn’t he register? That too was brought about by her fraud. But of course, in keeping with the purpose of PFRs, her fraud is legally irrelevant.
Based on Strickland’s complaint in federal court, here is a summary of the facts of his case:
He met Whitney Pettersson in 2009. She falsely claimed she had divorced her husband Kyle Rathjen. Strickland and Pettersson began a sexual relationship and she soon conceived a child. At one point, she mentioned wanting to place the child for adoption, but Strickland vehemently objected causing Pettersson to promise (falsely) that she would keep the child and they’d raise it together.
Strickland was overjoyed as was his family. Pettersson became very much a part of his family, attending parties and family functions with Strickland. And why not? What family wouldn’t embrace the soon-to-be mother of the child of one of its members? Soon Strickland’s brother hosted a baby shower for Pettersson. With Christmas just around the corner, Strickland announced to his family that all he wanted were items for the baby whom Petterson had told him would be delivered by Caesarian Section on January 12, 2012.
All the while, Pettersson had allowed Strickland to give her money, pay for child-related expenses, attend doctor visits, etc.
Shortly before Christmas, a very pregnant Petterson and Strickland took a romantic nighttime walk around the temple of the Church of Latter Day Saints to view the Christmas lights and talk about the new arrival.
But then, Pettersson got quiet. Strickland’s emails, text messages and phone calls were answered curtly, if at all. Still, he wasn’t concerned because more than once in the run-up to the birth of their child on January 12th, when he inquired as to how she was doing, Pettersson replied “Good no change.”
But there had been a change — a very important one. Completely unknown to Strickland, Pettersson had given birth on December 30th and placed the child with adoptive parents. None of that had she told Strickland and he was flabbergasted when she finally told him long after the fact. She added that she had known all along that she would place the child for adoption. Her behavior with him and his family, her acceptance of their love, gifts and money had all been part of the ruse.
The very next day, he filed suit to prove his paternity and stop the adoption. His bid to be a father to his child was denied at the trial court level and is now pending before a Utah appellate court. Again, he failed to register with the state’s PFR and, at least so far, he’s out of luck. His child will turn three in a little over three months.
To be clear, this is not some case in which a father shows up in court years after a child has been born and lived with its adoptive parents. No, from the very first, Strickland not only told Pettersson of his desire to be a father to his child, but went to court to prove it as soon as her lies became clear to him. Decades ago, prior to the advent of PFRs, there’d be no doubt that the adoption would never have been completed and Strickland (and perhaps Pettersson) would be caring for the child to this day. That of course would have meant that the lawyers and the agencies wouldn’t have gotten paid and that Pettersson wouldn’t have gotten her way.
But Utah’s PFR changed all that. Now, all it takes is a strategic lie or two on the part of a birth mother and — presto! — it’s Daddy be gone. Mom’s relieved of a child she didn’t want and the attorneys and the adoption agency take it all to the bank.
The only downside is to the father who desperately wanted to care for his child and the child who didn’t need to be adopted. Oh, and, as I’ve said in previous articles, there’s one other person who suffers. Because there are far more children without parents who need to be adopted than there are parents to adopt them, the parents who adopted Strickland’s child are a wasted resource. Somewhere there’s a child who does need parents who’s going without because they were permitted to adopt a child who didn’t need it.
But what is the pain of a father and two children compared to the wishes of a mother and the greed of lawyers and adoption agencies? Utah’s PFR performed the exact function it was created for. It cut a fit father out of his child’s life, made sure Mom didn’t have to be a parent if she didn’t want to be and that the flow of money would remain unimpeded. And if a little lying and a little fraud took place along the way, well, why allow that to stop the action of the PFR?
So if anyone ever tries to tell you that PFRs are all about preserving fathers’ rights in the adoption process, just ask them about Jake Strickland. Or indeed about countless other dads who learned to their horror the real purpose behind those pernicious laws.
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