Nearly 135,000 adoptions take place in the United States each year. Of those adoptions, each situation is entirely different from the other. Each state has its own laws and procedures when it comes to adoption. Legally, one of the most important things in the process is understanding the rights of birth parents and parental rights. The legality of parental rights, adoption, and steps that need to be taken to ensure ethical and legal adoption can vary from state to state, but for the most part, the same rules and regulations apply when it comes to birth parent rights.
Sometimes, a single mother is terminating her rights without a father present or any established paternity. Depending on the situation, a birth father may already have relinquished rights or denied paternity. However, in some situations that father may not have been informed of pregnancy or potential paternity. Legality differs further when a father isn’t named on the birth certificate. Though a birth mother may waive her right to terminate her parental rights, the reality is that a birth father still has rights as a parent. This article will explain more about the rights a birth father has, what the putative father registry is, and how to find more information about birth father rights.
Learn more about the termination of parental rights and family law here.
What are the rights of a birth father?
Whether a birth mother is in a relationship with the father, has told a birth father about a pregnancy, etc., he has a right to know that he has fathered a child and to decide whether he wants to parent that child, have visitation rights, or neither. Until parental rights are terminated, a biological father has as many parental rights as a biological mother. The only exception to this is if it can be determined that the birth father is a danger to a child. Legally, this will be determined by the court.
In order to understand the rights of a birth father, it’s important to learn more about the term, “putative father.” A putative father may or may not have a legal obligation or relationship to a child. Typically, this parentage has not been established, but the individual may have engaged in sexual activity with a birth mother or is alleged to be the father. A putative father is not typically married to the biological mother at the time of conception.
Typically, if a birth father isn’t named on a birth certificate, information about the child’s birth and the birth mother are loaded to a putative father registry to give a biological father the chance to learn that he has fathered a child. Though this registry isn’t in every state in the country, legally, there always has to be a way for a putative father to establish parental rights.
Read “The Rights of Unmarried Fathers” to learn more about birth father rights.
What is a putative father registry?
Around half of the states in the United States have a Putative Father Registry, which allows biological fathers to come forward should they want to check on the paternity of a child recently born. Legally, every state has to have a process to allow for birth fathers to gain their parental rights as long as they haven’t already been terminated legally.
During this process, if a child is born and an adoption plan is created by a birth mother, this child can be placed in the care of his or her potential adoptive parents at that time. Following the allotted time for a putative father to move forward with legal proceedings, that family can set up a court date to legally adopt the child. Though that doesn’t mean there is nothing a biological father can do after that has occurred, it does become more difficult.
There is a time limit typically following the birth of a child for a biological father to come forward and claim paternity to proceed with adoption, which is usually about a month. In order for a birth father to learn about paternity, he would need to register on the local putative father registry to receive any notice of court proceedings regarding a child they may be the biological parent of. Information shared would include petitions for adoption and any action to legally terminate parental rights. In some states, this is the only way that a birth father would be notified about the child: by registering. If it is proven that he is in fact, the father, he does have visitation/custodial rights if termination of parental rights aren’t given. In this case, he would also potentially have to pay child support.
If there is no putative father registry, a birth father still has rights. They can meet with a lawyer to properly file to claim paternity with the court.
Learn more about the putative father registry and what states they are in here.
How can I learn about birth father rights in my location?
It is advisable to speak to a lawyer or adoption professional should you have questions about establishing paternity, adoption, and legal rights as a biological father. If you think you have fathered a child, it is important to see if your state is one of those that has a putative child registry to register immediately. You can also find more information about legality here.
Like any legal process, adoption is no different. There are multiple policies in place to legally protect all parties and birth fathers have rights as well.
If you have more questions about birth father rights or other adoption topics, contact us here.