Legally, all expecting parents have the same rights when it comes to adoption. This means that fathers have the same rights as mothers in relation to parenting or adoption.
In order for a child to be placed for adoption, both expecting parents have to formally consent to the adoption. This process of consent is intended to prevent parents who aren’t fully informed of their options, or have been coerced into relinquishing their parental rights, from doing so without adequate information or time to decide.
Each state’s laws on how consents must be done vary, but most states require formal consent to be in writing and witnessed by more than one person, as well as notarized. Some states require that expectant parents are read the rights they are agreeing to give up and signing of consents to be videotaped. The laws were created to help ensure that parents signing consents are fully aware of their rights.
A Father’s Adoption Rights
Like expecting mothers, fathers have a number of parental rights in terms of adoption.
All biological fathers begin with the same basic parental parents as biological mothers. But specific states have their own laws defining the rights of fathers, and most make significant distinctions between married fathers and unmarried fathers.
In almost every state, fathers who are married to a child’s mother have the right to consent or object to the child’s adoption. Recently-divorced or separated fathers also have a legal right to consent in most states.
In some states, like New York, married fathers have the right to consent or object to an adoption, even if they don’t know whether or not the child is biologically their own.
In other words, married fathers are legally considered the father unless they relinquish their parental rights or have those rights terminated by a court.
What Rights Do Unmarried Fathers Have?
For fathers who aren’t married to a child’s mother, fathers who can’t be located or men who are simply unaware that a child may be their biological child, the situation is more difficult.
These men must actively claim their parental rights. This is called “establishing paternity,” and its ultimate goal is to demonstrate a father’s willingness and ability to support their child.
“Putative father” is the legal term usually used to describe men whose legal relationship to a child hasn’t yet been established. It can refer to men who claim to be a child’s father or who are alleged to be a child’s father.
How Can “Putative Fathers” Establish Paternity?
Even when there’s no dispute over a putative father’s paternity of a child, he still has to sign an “acknowledgment of paternity,” either at the hospital or later. This gives him all the rights and responsibilities of a legal father, including the right to object or consent to his child’s adoption.
But what if there is a dispute, and the mother wishes to relinquish her parental rights? In contested situations, most unmarried fathers attempt to establish paternity because they want to parent a child they know or believe to be their own biologically. In short, they want to object to their child’s adoption.
The US Supreme Court has held that fathers who wait to establish their parental rights until a custody dispute arises, like the proposed adoption of their child, may be too late unless they’ve maintained a relationship with the child.
1. Invalid Marriages, Birth Certificates & Obligations To Support
In Delaware, New Jersey and Virginia, state laws say that unmarried men can be “presumed” a child’s father if any of the following are true:
- He and the child’s biological mother tried to get married and the child was born within 300 days of the attempt.
- He and the child’s mother are, or have been married and the child was born during the marriage, or within 300 days after the marriage was terminated.
- He consents to be listed and is listed as the father on a child’s birth certificate. All states allow for a father’s name to be retroactively added to a child’s birth certificate.
- He is obligated to support the child by court order or voluntary agreement.
“Presumed” to be the father means that they’re considered the child’s legal father until someone successfully challenges that relationship in court. These men have the right to consent or object to the adoption of the child.
2. Acknowledging Paternity: Putative Father Registries
25 states have set up registries where putative fathers can voluntarily acknowledge their known or believed paternity of a child, including Delaware, New York and Virginia.
Taking this step doesn’t establish a “legal relationship” that allows a father to consent or object to a termination of parental rights. Instead, it gives him the right to be informed of certain developments, like petitions to adopt filed by prospective adoptive parents.
In Virginia, joining the putative father registry is the only way that a man can establish his legal right to be informed of developments in adoption proceedings.
Pennsylvania and New Jersey have established similar ways for men to voluntarily acknowledge possible paternity, but instead of registries, they use forms that can be filed with Social Services or a Bureau of Vital Statistics. In Connecticut, putative fathers must file signed affidavits with a court to acknowledge paternity.
In some states, “acknowledging” paternity in this way may entitle a putative father to visitations with a child, and it also usually requires him to provide financial support toward the child’s well-being.
3. Paternity Tests
In most states, unmarried fathers who want to object to an adoption have to file a civil lawsuit in Family Court. Most state courts have turned to genetic testing as the decisive factor in disputes like this. The positive results of a genetic test are usually considered enough to create a legal relationship between the child and father.
Do Fathers Have To Be Notified Of The Adoption?
In virtually all states, an attempt must be made to inform unmarried fathers that their child is being placed for adoption. If the father can be identified and located, a copy of a court petition filed by the prospective adoptive parents will be mailed to him.
If the father can’t be found, some states require that a notification be published in a newspaper.
These measures are intended to give unmarried fathers the opportunity to establish their paternity.
But when unmarried fathers fail to establish a legal relationship to their children, if they don’t successfully establish paternity, most state courts have almost complete discretion and can determine the parental rights affecting any one child, including terminating those rights for the purpose of adoption.
Building Loving Families & Relationships
It’s important to note that while the consent process may end the legal relationship between a child and his or her birth parent, it need not end their emotional relationship. Open adoption, in which birth parents maintain a certain level of contact with their child’s adoptive family, has become increasingly common over the last few decades.
Adoptions From The Heart is firmly committed to promoting loving relationships between all members of the adoption triad: children, birth parents and adoptive parents. That’s why we support open adoption whole-heartedly.
With that being said, the degree of openness is entirely your choice; it’s a matter of what you are comfortable with. It’s important to note that birth fathers are entitled to openness even if the child’s birth mother chooses not to have an adoption. Above all, we support your decisions and no one else’s.