July 22, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
When it comes to stopping a fraudulently obtained adoption, it seems that unmarried fathers just can’t win. We know they can’t in Utah where there’s a specific “fraud immunity” clause to protect single mothers who resort to lying to wrest a child from its father and have it adopted. But this case comes from Alabama that has no such provision in its adoption statutes.
That proved to be no impediment to the trial court and state Supreme Court, each of which went to bizarre and clearly unsupportable lengths to deprive a father, Daniel Williams, of his child and finalize an adoption that all agree was obtained by the mother’s fraud and the adoptive parents’ active participation therein. If that’s not remarkable enough, the courts’ endorsement of the mother’s fraud and their approval of this adoption contradicts the stated purpose of the law establishing the state’s Putative Father Registry. And if that’s still not enough, the courts also endorse the violation of the United States Constitution that they’re obligated to uphold.
To be as brief as possible, Williams and the mother conceived a child that was brought to term by the mother. The mother knew Williams wanted the child and was eager to care for it. She lied to him, telling him that it had lived just a short time after birth. She did that so that he wouldn’t file the necessary form with the Alabama Putative Father Registry within the required time – 30 days following the child’s birth. She even forged a birth certificate purporting to show the child’s death. Two days after the birth, she placed the child for adoption. The adoptive parents were aware that the father wanted the child, but went along with the mother’s fraud. When they filed their petition for adoption with the Probate Court, they stated that the father was “unknown” which was technically true because they didn’t know his name, but could easily have found out. The mother meanwhile filed an affidavit stating that she refused to disclose the name of the father.
Williams finally got wind of what was going on and immediately intervened in the adoption to try to stop it and gain custody of his child. Because he had not filed in time with the Putative Father Registry, he attempted to prove that he and the mother were in a common law marriage at the time the child was conceived. Had he succeeded, he wouldn’t have been required to have registered.
Suffice it to say that the trial court managed to rule that there was no common-law marriage and therefore, Williams was required to have filed the necessary documents with the PFR and, since he didn’t, the adoption could go forward.
But Dad wasn’t done yet. His lawyer argued that the act requiring unmarried fathers to register with the PFR was unconstitutional as applied to him under the facts of this case. The trial court said that he hadn’t asserted his constitutional argument sufficiently to have it ruled on. The Court of Appeals reversed that ruling, but the Supreme Court reinstated it. In short, Dad lost.
Now let’s look in detail at what happened. The Court of Appeals recited the pertinent information:
First, were Mom and Dad married at common law so that Dad didn’t have to register with the PFR?" In this case, the father argues that he had demonstrated the requisite commitment to fatherhood before the birth of the child such that he retained a constitutional right to object to the adoption of the child by the petitioners regardless of the operation of the PFRA or the [Alabama Adoption Code]. The father testified that he and the mother had participated in consensual sex on multiple occasions after their divorce. It was undisputed that, in September or October 2012, the mother conceived the child with the father at his apartment. The father testified that he had attended some of the mother's prenatal appointments and had paid for two of the prenatal visits in April 2013. The father testified that he and the mother had decided on a name for the child and that they had hung the child's ultrasound photo on the refrigerator in the father's apartment. He testified that he had purchased clothes, teethers, and bibs for the child. It was undisputed that the mother and the father had announced the gender of the child to the father's family at a softball game. The evidence was also undisputed that the father had acknowledged his paternity of the child and was excited about the pending birth of the child. The mother testified that she hid the birth of the child from the father despite her knowledge that the father wanted to parent the child and was excited about that prospect. The father testified that, when he learned that the child was alive, he immediately took a bus from Colorado to Alabama and hired a lawyer to contest the adoption."
Why do putative father registries exist? According to the states that have them, they exist to encourage fathers to take responsibility for the children they take part in conceiving. As this article says in support of PFRs (Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Summer, 2002),
Protecting paternal rights of unmarried fathers without requiring corresponding responsibilities fails to ensure permanent and stable parents for children…
This article says much the same (Center for Family Policy and Research).
These registries assist fathers in asserting paternity and assuming related parental duties…
The Supreme Court has held on three occasions that unwed fathers are constitutionally entitled to notice of adoption proceedings of children with whom they have established relationships. State law entitles unwed fathers to notice if they meet statutory criteria. Thus, unwed fathers’ established relationships and/or endeavors to assume parental responsibility provide grounds for notice and opportunities to be heard regarding pending adoptions.
Now, as I’ve said before, that’s all so much bunk. The whole purpose of PFRs is to remove single fathers from the adoption process. They do nothing for fathers; they only create yet another barrier to their ability to contest the adoption of their children. But what states say is that they exist to insure that fathers take responsibility for the children they produce.
And that is precisely what Williams did. He was eager to be a father to the child, lived with the mother, bought necessary items for the child, paid medical expenses for the mother, etc. So in this case, the PFR is being utilized for the exact opposite purpose for which PFR advocates claim PFRs exist – to promote responsibility on the part of single fathers.
To me, that’s no mystery. PFRs were never enacted for that purpose. They were enacted to get fathers out of their children’s lives, irrespective of their fitness and willingness to care for them. This case and countless others prove my point and give the lie to the sham that PFRs have something to do with paternal responsibility. In this case, Alabama’s PFR was used to endorse a mother’s fraud and what the dissent called a “conspiracy of silence” on the part of the adoptive parents.
Next time I’ll say more about the father’s constitutional arguments.
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