October 15, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
This is a terrible bill (Chronicle of Social Change, 10/9/17). But I support it. I do so because it slightly improves a terrible situation. It’s a proposed law that would create a federal registry of putative fathers that all states would have to consult in adoption cases prior to finalizing the adoption. In short, it would federalize the scheme of putative father registries that now exist in 34 states.
Now, I’ve always criticized putative father registries. I do so because they’re specifically designed to deprive fathers of their right to notice when their children are placed by mothers for adoption. Against all that’s sensible, they place the burden of establishing his right to notice of the adoption proceeding on an unmarried father who may well not even know that the child exists. In registry states, if an unmarried man has sex with a woman, he’s required to file a form with the state saying he’s the father of whatever child eventuates, if any. If he doesn’t, his child can be adopted without his knowledge or consent.
As I’ve written before, states that utilize those registries are fairly uniform in their efforts to keep them secret. Few states budget any money at all to publicize either the fact or the function of their registries. Unsurprisingly, men generally have no idea that they exist, what they are or how they impact fathers’ rights. On those rare occasions when a man learns of his state’s registry, he often finds it next to impossible to comply with the law and secure his right to notice. Few men know about the registries, so few of them register. That in turn means that state officials are themselves in the dark about the registries or what a man needs to do.
Registries are routinely presented as a great gift to single men. They’re said to promote their right to notice of the adoption of their children. That’s utter bunk. Registries were the brainchild of the adoption industry as a way to speed up adoptions by cutting fathers out of the adoption loop. An absence of pesky dads claiming their parental rights meant more adoptions, quicker adoptions and a better cash flow for adoption agencies and their lawyers. Prior to registries, adoption agencies had to prove a single man had abandoned his child in order to proceed without his consent. That was far less convenient to them than is the registry scheme.
As with paternity fraud, putative father registries place the burden on the wrong party. After all, when an unmarried man has sex with a woman, he may never see her again or their relationship may dissolve later. She may tell him “it’s not working out” and move on. In those cases, he may not know whether she’s pregnant or not and may trust her to tell him if she is.
But no law anywhere requires a woman to tell a man about his child. So if the mother decides to place the child for adoption, there’s nothing the man can do about it unless he happens to know about and understand his state’s PFR, which vanishingly few men do.
The obvious question is “Why place the burden on the man to register when he may well not know of the existence of the child?” The mother knows she’s pregnant and she probably knows who the father is. If she wants to place the child for adoption, why not require her to either notify the dad or place his name with the putative father registry? Everywhere else in the law, we require the person with knowledge of legally material facts to make them known either to the public or to the other party. Why not in the case of adoption?
So, why do I support the federal bill? For one reason only: it would end once and for all the practice of mothers simply moving to another state to give birth and place the child for adoption. We’ve seen this in Utah and elsewhere. Dad learns Mom’s pregnant and so he files the correct documents with the state’s PFR. But Mom moves to another state, often Utah, where the court checks that state’s registry but not that of the state in which Dad registered. Dad doesn’t know where Mom is, so he can’t register in that state.
A federal registry would combine all the registrations of all states and require courts to consult it. So Mom may have moved to Utah and Dad may have registered in Texas, but the Utah court would still learn of his registration via the federal system.
It’s a terrible bill because it perpetuates and entrenches a terrible system. I support it because, like it or not, that system exists and the bill improves it. It’s a bitter pill, but we need to swallow it.
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