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February 3, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The outrage that is a putative father registry is on graphic display in this case (KMOV, 1/28/16). Truly, it doesn’t get much worse than this.

As readers of this blog know (but precious few other Americans do), putative father registries exist to facilitate the adoption of children fathered by unmarried men. They do so by removing the requirement that the father be notified of- and consent to- the adoption of his child before it can take place.

How do they get around the notice requirement that’s so fundamental a part of due process of law? They do so by resort to certain preposterous legal fictions. First, they assume that, when a man has sexual intercourse with a woman, he knows that (a) conception has occurred, (b) a child will be born, (c) the mother will place the child for adoption, (d) in a location he knows about and (e) without informing him. All those things being presumed to be true, it is then reasonable to conclude that the father, if he wanted to contest the adoption, would do so. Of course if some of them aren’t true, then the whole justification for the PFR is lost, but neither legislators, nor lawyers nor judges admit that.

Stranger still, the man is presumed to know that the PFR exists, what it is, what it’s used for, how it can impact his parental rights and what he’s supposed to do vis-à-vis the registry. That might make sense but for the fact that, in most of the 34 states that have a PFR, they’re closely-guarded secrets. Few states spend a dime to publish any information about their PFRs with the predictable result that few men know a thing about them.

Don’t believe me? Here’s what the KMOV article has to say about the Kansas registry:

A putative father registry, offered in both Kansas and Missouri, is something unwed fathers can do to protect their rights, but many have no idea it exists…

However, it’s not something that’s widely used. Since 1994, only five men have put their name on the putative registry in Kansas.

Kansas doesn’t even have a website for its registry. Fathers have to call the Department of Social and Rehab Services at (785) 296-3237 or write the office at P.O. Box 497 Topeka, KS 66601-0497.

Remarkably, when PFRs are discussed in the press, they’re invariably described as wonderful opportunities for unmarried fathers to assert their rights. That’s utter nonsense. PFRs have always existed for the benefit of the adoption industry that’s never happier than when it has no pesky father claiming custody of his child and ruining another healthy payday for the adoption lawyers and the agencies they work for.

Outrageous as all that is, it’s doubly so in the linked-to case.

Chris Reynolds is a Missouri man who’s just had his three-year-old daughter Brooke adopted away from him.

Reynolds and Brooke’s mother were together for seven years but never married. Reynolds thought he was on the birth certificate but, even if he was, it wouldn’t have mattered. A name on a birth certificate doesn’t offer legal protection, like custody or visitation.

When the relationship fell apart, Reynolds says he worked out child support and custody arrangements with his child's mother.

That’s right, a single father who’d lived with the child’s mother for seven years and who paid child support and saw his daughter for two years lost her to the machinations of the state’s putative father registry. Now, PFRs originated to provide finality to adoptions in which fathers had no interest in their kids and mothers couldn’t or didn’t want to care for them. The laws aren’t sensible, but the intent behind them is at least arguable.

But never were they intended to deprive a child of the only father she’s ever known just because he wasn’t married to her mother and didn’t know about the registry. Reynolds isn’t the only one, a situation he would like to rectify.

He reached out to KCTV5 News to warn other unmarried fathers that this could happen to them. He and thousands of other fathers in both Kansas and Missouri are on shaky legal ground.

That, of course, is the whole point of PFRs – to make it as difficult as possible for unmarried fathers to have a say in whether their children are adopted or not.

"To me, it’s a legal way of kidnapping," Reynolds says.

Bingo.

But it gets worse. As I mentioned, Reynolds lives in Missouri, but his daughter’s adoption didn’t take place there. It happened in Arkansas, another state with a putative father registry. So what if Reynolds had by some chance known about Missouri’s registry and filed the proper forms? That would have been his tough luck because the court in Arkansas is under no obligation to check other states’ registries to see if the child’s father has filed. No, the impetus is on the man to file with, presumably, every registry in the country on the off chance that Mom’s decided to place the child for adoption in one of them.

That actually happened in the Kevin O’Dea case. He filed in two states, but not the right one. The mother of his child had fled to Utah to give birth and give the child up. O’Dea had to guess where she was and he guessed wrong. Again, that was his tough luck.

So Chris Reynolds is out of luck, as is his daughter who may never see her father again. She’ll never see his two daughters either, who live with him and write to Brooke every day. That of course is her tough luck. But all is well, because surely the lawyers and the adoption agency got paid.

As I’ve said many times before, the entire concept of forcing adoption on children who don’t need it would be absurd if it weren’t so tragic. This little girl has a fit and loving father who’s highly motivated to step in and give her a good home. But he can’t because the law does the bidding of an adoption industry whose cash flow stops if adoptions aren’t finalized.

But when a child with a fit parent is forcibly adopted, as Brooke was, another child somewhere in the world who desperately needs to be adopted, goes without parents. That’s because there are far, far more children without parents than there are qualified parents wanting to adopt. It’s a concept about which the adoption industry neither knows nor cares.

Along with the many other depredations of family law, putative father registries should be done away with entirely. By any measure, they’re a scandal. Their entire purpose is to remove fathers from their children’s lives as easily as possible. That they do so almost entirely in secret is all the evidence we need that neither the state nor the adoption industry is any too comfortable with how they operate or their results. In the final analysis, PFRs actually do the opposite of what they’re meant to do. By forcing adoption on kids who don’t need it, they deprive of adoptive parents kids who do. And they do all of that for a miserable pile of pennies paid to lawyers in $1,000 suits.

The whole sham is a disgrace, but one look at how a PFR in a foreign state acted to kidnap Chris Reynolds’ daughter makes that word too weak, too mild to do the matter justice. When a father who’s paid child support and been a regular presence in his child’s life for her first two years can lose her to an adoption he never agreed to, there can be no doubt that the system is rotten.

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