August 5, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
A year ago I wrote about Chris Emanuel, the South Carolina dad who fought a donnybrook against his daughter’s mother, an adoption agency and the adoptive parents she’d hand-picked. Despite being unschooled in the vagaries of adoption law and the obstacles South Carolina places between single fathers and their kids, Emanuel won. He stopped the adoption and won custody of his daughter, Skylar. Her mother relinquished her parental rights, making Emanuel a single dad.
To remind readers, Emanuel’s girlfriend became pregnant with his child. Although well aware that he was excited about becoming a father and eager to raise the child, Mom decided differently. She did so on the sly. She led him to believe they were together on the plan of keeping the baby, but, unknown to him, she’d contacted an adoption agency and picked out an adoptive couple well before the baby was even born.
Fortunately for Emanuel, she began to grow distant, stopped answering his calls and texts and generally acted differently from what he thought an expectant mother would. That raised a red flag for Emanuel.
His sister was suspicious as well and began researching the parental rights of single fathers. In the process she discovered a little-known law in South Carolina requiring unmarried fathers to register with the state’s putative father registry if they wanted to be consulted should the mother place the child for adoption. Emanuel filed with the registry. Had he not done so, he would have been unable to stop the adoption of his daughter and she’d be living far away with adoptive parents.
But just filing with the PFR didn’t alone mean Emanuel was home free. No, he had to also prove to the court’s satisfaction that he was a responsible father, something no single mother needs to do to preserve her parental rights absent some indication of unfitness. But Chris Emanuel is too responsible a man and too enthusiastic a dad to let that requirement come between him and his daughter. The court ruled in his favor while expressing its “concern” that the child’s mother had deceived so many people in her headlong drive to remove Chris from his daughter’s life.
So what’s the latest? Only good things. Interestingly enough, The Atlantic reporter who covered Emanuel’s case has this to tell us.
Some readers of my article wondered if Chris would remain a responsible parent, or if he could raise Skylar on his own. One commenter seemed skeptical: “Let’s wait 15 years to see if there is a happy ending.” Another commenter, named General Realist, wrote, “I dare the reporter to revisit this scene two or three years from now. But he won’t, I’ll bet.”
It’s funny how so many people who call themselves “realists” are really nothing but cynics. I have a large helping of crow for “General Realist” to eat. I hope he takes a gander at the photo of Emanuel and Skylar in the Indianapolis Recorder article. If there’s a better image of a happy child and a satisfied dad, I haven’t seen it. Chris Emanuel is the most devoted of fathers and apparently one of the best. Here’s the Atlantic reporter’s brief conversation with Emanuel.
What’s a typical day?
Every morning, Sky wakes up next to me and says, ‘Wake up, Daddy!’ We’ll say a prayer, brush our teeth, read a book, and we eat breakfast. I have to be at work (as a manager at a furniture store) at 9, and my mother or my aunt stays with her during the day for now. She’s about to start at a school for 3-year-olds in the fall. She’s so smart! She enunciates her words so clearly. She can count to 20. She can name every part of her body. She can say her ABCs. She likes Barney.
What happens at the end of the day?
When I get off work, it’s all, “Daddy! Daddy! Are you home? I missed you! I love you! I want a hug.” We play, read a book, eat. We just have fun.
What about dating?
My main focus is my daughter. I’m a package deal.
Any final thoughts?
I want to paint a positive image of fathers, and let the world know that there are great fathers out there. I can’t help everybody, but I can encourage them to keep fighting.
When he said he’s a “package deal,” that’s the kicker, the thing that makes me know he’s a dad first and everything else later. But then, that “everything else” turns out to be a lot. Emanuel didn’t stop at simply winning his own case, he’s now helping other men figure out their parental rights and duties.
Mentoring fathers is a crucial part of protecting their rights. Registration can be difficult in some states, like Utah, and Chris advises fathers in their custody battles. He is currently mentoring 10 fathers from California, Virginia, Illinois, Georgia, and, of course, South Carolina.
That mentoring he does is the best of things. Too many men believe single fathers have parental rights the same way single mothers do. They have no idea of the countless hidden traps the law has set for them to deny them the most basic of rights. Putative father registries of course are just one example of many. But consider:
Luckily, Chris had registered as a putative father under the South Carolina Responsible Father Registry, one of only 279 men who did so that year.
I’ve said many times before that states are at pains to keep secret their PFRs. It would appear South Carolina is one such. The Centers for Disease Control shows that there were 26,879 births to unmarried women in South Carolina in 2013, the year of Skylar’s birth. Assuming that each of those children had an unmarried father, almost exactly 1% of those unmarried fathers preserved their rights to contest the adoption of their child.
Now, one take on that is that fathers don’t care about their children and are happy to see them adopted, so they don’t file with the PFR. The reality of course is altogether different. Fathers are far more likely to be like Chris Emanuel than like the deadbeats so preferred by the news media and pop culture. Indeed, the “no-show” dad was Myth No. 2 authoritatively debunked by Dr. Sanford Braver in his book Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths.
So what explains the 1%? Why did 99% of unmarried fathers in South Carolina fail to preserve their parental rights? Almost certainly they failed to file the needed documents with the PFR because they didn’t know it exists. Few states make any effort to acquaint fathers with their PFRs and, should a dad find out about one, state websites make the process of filing arcane and difficult. From the Indianapolis Recorder article:
“Of the two-thirds of states that have registries, most do not have useful information online about them,” said Brad Reid, a professor of law and ethics at Tennessee’s Lipscomb University. The often-missing details include how to register and search them. Some documents are not even online.
And fathers usually have little time to sign up – from no more than 30 days after a birth in Illinois to as few as 72 hours in Montana.
The point of PFRs is to remove those pests – unmarried fathers – from the process of adoption. They make life so much easier for adoption agencies and the mothers they serve to shift kids to adoptive parents. They make life easier on the mothers and vastly more profitable for the agencies. Adoption agencies don’t make a living by including dads in the process.
Meanwhile, good for Chris Emanuel, both for being a stand-up dad to Skylar and for going to bat for other dads who, like him, were once in the dark about all the obstacles states place between unmarried fathers and the children they love.
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