July 17, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
This is one of the best articles I’ve read about the scandal that is the system of adoption in this country (The Atlantic, 7/7/15). It’s informed and informative; it gets just about everything right. But that’s only as far as it goes. Its focus is on a single adoption case and the law related to it and gives a bit of legal history. All of that is fine. But it doesn’t go further to let readers know the larger context in which the particular adoption occurred or why the system’s dogged anti-father bias is so detrimental to the very people it’s supposed to help — kids.
The adoption in question took place in South Carolina, a state that’s second only to Utah in its disdain for men who make the mistake of fathering a child with a woman to whom they’re not married. Like Utah, South Carolina does everything in it power to ensure that, when a single mother wants her child to be adopted, the father won’t be able to stop it.
So, Christopher Emanuel’s story is much like that of other single fathers who’ve tried to preserve their parental rights in the face of a state adoption industry that is deeply invested in preventing that. The only difference is that, unlike so many dads in his position, Emanuel won. He now has sole custody of his daughter, Skylar.
Emmanuel met Skylar’s mother at work. After several months of friendship, they began a sexual relationship. Very soon, the unnamed mother was pregnant. (As with all articles about unexpected pregnancy, the Atlantic piece never delves into how, in a world with a wide array of safe and effective contraception, a woman can become “unexpectedly” pregnant.) They vowed to stay together and raise the child. Emmanuel was excited to be a father and told his family all about it. His mother met her mother and all seemed well.
As is usual in these cases, Emanuel didn’t know what his girlfriend was doing behind his back. She went to an adoption lawyer and corresponded with a couple she thought would be good adoptive parents. One of her prime considerations in selecting a couple was that they live far away from South Carolina. Six month before her due date, Emanuel’s girlfriend had chosen the couple she wanted to adopt their baby.
Emanuel meanwhile knew nothing of her plans and continued seeing her. She spent nights at his house and he attended doctor appointments with her. They remained in almost constant contact with each other via text messaging. When she developed pregnancy-related diabetes, Emmanuel texted her three times a day reminding her to check her blood sugar level. She did plenty to encourage his belief that they would raise the child together and little to suggest otherwise.
But as time wore on, she became more and more distant. She stopped coming to his house and often didn’t return his phone calls or texts. Emanuel’s sister figured his girlfriend was planning on placing their baby for adoption, so she researched how a single father could preserve his parental rights. In the process, she discovered that carefully-kept secret, the South Carolina Responsible Father Registry, that, if Emanuel filed the proper forms, would entitle him to notice of an adoption proceeding.
So Emanuel filed with the Registry and was given notice of the adoption, but not until the adoptive parents had already taken his child to their home out of state. But just receiving notice of the adoption didn’t preserve Emmanuel’s rights to his child. No, to do that, he had to prove that he was a fit father, that he had a job that could support him and his baby, that he had a support system to help with child care, and that he had emotionally and financially supported his girlfriend during pregnancy.
His girlfriend resisted everything he did to try to assert his rights. In addition to keeping her distance from him, she lied to him, lied to the adoptive parents, lied to her own lawyer and lied to the court. She repeatedly claimed that Emmanuel had no interest in his child and had done nothing for her during her pregnancy.
Fortunately for him, he’d done everything necessary to preserve his rights and proved it to the court. Emmanuel now has sole custody of Skylar and his girlfriend signed a voluntary termination of her parental rights. She can no longer be Skylar’s mother and is absolved of any financial responsibility to her.
So, all’s well that ends well, right? Hardly. Yes, Emanuel managed to prevail in his case, but in the process he revealed the many anti-father aspects of the adoption system. Many of the points made by the Atlantic piece are those I’ve often made myself. For example:
Laws creating putative father registries invariably claim they exist to protect the rights of unmarried fathers, but that simply isn’t true. According to U.S. Supreme Court precedents, unmarried fathers have parental rights with or without PFRs. But, by requiring single fathers to in some way know about a girlfriend’s pregnancy, they impose an extra legal burden on those dads. If states really wanted to ensure that single fathers had an opportunity to assert their rights, they’d require mothers to identify the fathers of the children to whom they give birth.
But remarkably, no state anywhere does that simple, obvious thing. As Emanuel’s case shows there was no obligation on his girlfriend’s part to tell what she knew to be the truth — the father’s name and location and that he wanted to be a father to his child.
Not only did the state not require her to divulge information she knew, Emanuel’s girlfriend was also permitted to lie to pretty much everyone involved in the adoption, a fact remarked on by the judge.
“The court is very concerned about the deception of the Defendant in denying the Plaintiff his parental rights,” the judge said. “The court is concerned with the Defendant’s deception to the court... The conscious and continuing deception of the Defendant is very concerning...”
“Concerned” the judge may well have been, but nothing anywhere in the law required Emanuel’s girlfriend to disclose what she knew or to tell the truth when she did speak. In adoption cases, there is no punishment for a mother’s lying. The article makes part of that clear.
(No state requires a pregnant, unmarried woman to divulge the name of the father, and she can give a false name if she chooses.)
I’ll post more about this case on Sunday.
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