Today, the New York Times published a news story about a father living in Arizona whose parental rights were terminated by a Florida court so that the child born to his former fiance could be adopted. Jeremiah Clayton Jones learned that about the pregnancy just three weeks prior to the child’s birth when an adoption agency telephoned him to inquire whether he would consent to an adoption. He decided to raise the child that his former girlfriend did not wish to keep. He hired a lawyer and filed a paternity case in Florida where the mother lived on the day before the child was born. See Unwed Fathers Fight for Babies Placed for Adoption by Mothers, NY Times March 19, 2006.
Why did he lose the rights he tried so hard to protect? In Florida, as in about thirty states with state putative father registries, when a father doesn’t register within a specific and usually short period of time, his rights may legally be terminated. In Florida, the registration must be before a petition for adoption is filed. Other states have deadlines that range from 5 days to 30 days after birth. Mr. Jones did not know about the registry.
For a putative father registry to work to protect a man’s parental rights, he would have to know about the registry. In Florida, where the registry has been called “a well-kept secret,” only 47 men registered in 2004 and there were 89,436 out-of-wedlock births. Also, a man would have to register for every sexual partner he has. How many men are going to do that?
Another problem with registries is that they operate state by state. Suppose a man and woman live together in Ohio, where the deadline for registering is 30 days after a child’s birth, suppose that their relationship ends while she is pregnant, and suppose that the father registers with the putative father registry in Ohio. Now suppose that the mother moves to Utah, gives birth there, and surrenders the child to an adoption agency. The father hasn’t registered in Utah, thus his parental rights are not protected by Utah’s state registry.
To correct this latter problem, Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, will introduce in Congress later this year a bill called The Proud Father Act, which would create a national registry.
In Michigan, fathers who sign an Acknowledgment of Parentage are protected in some ways by the fact that this acknowledgment is filed with the state registry and becomes a permanent record. A father may also file a notice of intent to claim paternity under the Adoption Code, Section 33. Download MCL 710.33 However, if a mother subsequently decides to consent to an adoption, and the father’s rights may be terminated under Section 37 of the Adoption Code if:
(2) If the identity of the father cannot be determined, or if the identity of the father is known but his whereabouts cannot be determined, the court shall take evidence to determine the facts in the matter. The court may terminate the rights of the putative father if the court finds from the evidence that reasonable effort has been made to identify and locate the father and that any of the following circumstances exist:
(a) The putative father, whose identity is not known, has not made provision for the child's care and did not provide support for the mother during her pregnancy or during her confinement.
(b) The putative father, whose identity is known but whose whereabouts are unknown, has not provided support for the mother, has not shown any interest in the child, and has not made provision for the child's care, for at least 90 days preceding the hearing required under section 36.
See also MCL 722.51(6), which allows for termination under certain circumstances. [But see, the update below]
Preventing your infant from being adopted without your consent By Erik L. Smith
National Directory of Putative Father Registries By Erik L. Smith [Registries for 23 states]
IMPORTANT UPDATE: November 7, 2013
To read other posts about step-parent adoptions, especially a 2013 post about a serious challenge to the lagality of these adoption that will be resolved by the Michigan Supreme Court, see the following posts:
In the Matter of AJR, a very important case that will determine the future of step-parent adoptions [See Post here]Access all step-parent adoption posts here.
Do you need help with a paternity or child support case? Find a Michigan Family Lawyer near you.