Truth be told, fathers in adoption often get the short end of the stick. Stereotypes held toward fathers are sometimes even worse and often harder to break. Society still sees birth fathers as men who have deserted a woman they got pregnant. Truth be told, some of these men have been lied to and deceived and, in the end, their loss is a child to parent.
While some laws have been instated to help protect a birth mother’s rights (though how often these rights are stepped on is somewhat disturbing), biological fathers are still struggling for recognition as an equal partner in the adoption (vs. parenting) decision. Of course, before we go further, I need to define what a “putative father” is so that readers may understand what we’re talking about regarding this issue!
From adopting.org: A man who may be a child’s father, but who was not married to the child’s mother before the child was born and has not established that he is the father in a court proceeding.
In everyday language, he’s someone who has either been verbally identified or believes himself to be the father of a baby born to a woman. There are more technicalities involved but to be short, that’s what we’re dealing with when using the term. The issues that arise for these fathers come in certain states in certain situations.
In some states, for a father to have any right to the child that is born that may be placed for adoption, he needs to have registered with the state’s Putative Father Registry. (Say what?) And in some states, ignorance that the registry exists does not excuse the father from registering and thus, if he doesn’t, all rights are revoked. If he doesn’t register, his consent is not needed for the adoption to proceed. Confused? So are a lot of men.
Basically, in states with Putative Father Registries, the underlying idea is that every time you have sex, as a male, with any female, you should be registering yourself because that sexual act could result in a child. If you don’t, you’re out of luck. Seem somewhat convoluted and backwards? Many would agree. To understand a bit further, we’ll take a look at Ohio’s wording so that you may further understand the severity of this law.
Ignorance of the pregnancy is no excuse for not signing the registry. The sexual act itself lets the adoption proceed without the putative father’s consent if he has not signed the registry within 30 days after the child’s birth or legally established fatherhood. O.R.C 3107.061, & 3107( B ).
Quite frankly, I hadn’t ever heard of a Putative Father Registry until well after our adoption had taken place. (Munchkin’s birth father signed the Termination of Parental Rights so this was never an issue in our case.) I can tell you that none of my boyfriends had ever discussed registering each sexual act with any Putative Father Registry. In discussing the existence of such a thing with other mothers, fathers and single persons, no one had heard of such a thing. (And we live in Ohio, which quoted above, states that ignorance is no excuse!!)
Okay, fine. Even if this was a widely promoted program in states where ignorance is not an excuse, would there still be problems? Unfortunately, yes. Even if a father registers in the state where the sexual act occurred, if the mother crosses state lines to place and he has not magically guess that this would happen and thus registered in that state, he is again out of luck. States do not cross-reference the registries, thus complicating matters for fathers who have actually gone about registering in their own state. (You can read Cody’s story here.)
In theory, one can grasp how the original idea might have been intended to keep fathers rights somewhat protected. In practice, fathers can still be duped out of any right to stop an adoption from proceeding. Furthermore, without knowledge that this exists, unethical agencies, attorneys and mothers (if they’re involved in the deceit) can proceed without ever informing the father that an adoption is taking place.
Honestly, I don’t have the answers at the ready as to what would be a better option. However, an under-promoted, loophole filled program doesn’t seem like the answer to help fathers. Something else has to be available.
That said: please, take just a moment and visit Quietly Mothering’s survey on Putative Father Registries. You just need to answer a yes or no question and leave your e-mail. If you have an opinion, you can also leave it but that is optional. After you’ve filled it out, or before, please also leave us a comment. Do you support Putative Father Registries? Why or why not? Do you have a better idea as to how to protect fathers’ rights? Have you been personally hurt by a Putative Father Registry? Please feel free to e-mail me if you’d rather not share your story in public comment form!
For more on Putative Father Registries, read:
3. Rights of a Father: When Do They Begin? by Abby.