In adoption, much of the focus is often placed on the birth mother’s plan to place her baby for adoption and the adoptive parents’ excitement to adopt. But the birth father is also an important part of the adoption equation, and it is important for everyone involved in the adoption process to understand his rights.
Whether you are a birth father (or believe there is a possibility that you are a child’s biological father), a pregnant woman considering adoption or a family looking to adopt, familiarizing yourself with your state’s putative father registry laws and the rights of birth fathers in adoption can help ensure your adoption is completed legally, everyone’s rights are protected and the adoption is not later contested.
What is a Putative Father Registry?
It is common for a woman to become pregnant and not know the exact whereabouts of the baby’s father. In some cases, the father might not even be aware that an ex-girlfriend or a woman he only briefly met is even pregnant with his child.
Putative father registries, also known as paternity registries, have been established in about 25 states to help protect birth fathers’ parental rights in situations like these. These registries allow fathers to voluntarily acknowledge their paternity or the possibility of paternity of any child born outside of marriage. Registering with a state’s putative father registry gives potential fathers the right to receive notice of court proceedings regarding the child, petitions for adoption, and actions to terminate parental rights.
How Putative Father Registries Work
A man who believes he may have gotten a woman pregnant and wants to preserve his paternal rights should register his name with his state’s putative father registry, as well as in the state where conception may have taken place. This will allow the pregnant woman to contact the state’s putative father registry and see whether the presumed father has registered. She can then tell him that she is pregnant and that he is the father and they can discuss the best plan for the child’s future.
In addition, if the pregnant woman that the man has named in the registry files an adoption notice, the man will receive notice of her decision. This will allow him to consent to or contest the adoption.
When to Register with a Putative Father Registry
Each state’s paternity registry has different registration deadlines, so potential fathers should be proactive when registering. Most deadlines range from 5 to 30 days after the child’s birth. Men who fail to file within the deadline risk losing their parental rights. Find out more about putative father registry laws, deadlines and the rights of unmarried fathers in your state.
Benefits of the Putative Father Registries
The benefits of paternity registries are obvious for the putative father: He is allowed the opportunity to enact his parental rights and to have a say in the adoption plan. This also leads to some invaluable benefits for women considering adoption and for prospective adoptive families.
Putative father registries help limit failed adoptions because they allow the birth father to know of a pregnancy and adoption plan prior to a match with an adoptive family. This allows the birth father to enact his parental rights before the adoption legal process rather than during it, making the adoption process much smoother. Having the birth father’s parental rights legally terminated also limits the legal expenses paid by the adoptive family and offers peace of mind to the birth mother.
When the birth father learns of the adoption plan via the putative father registry, he can decide whether he would like to voluntarily terminate his parental rights and participate in the adoption plan. This allows the legal process to then move forward.
Criticisms of Putative Father Registries
The value of putative father registries is undeniable, but their execution is sometimes questioned.
Critics argue that men fail to register because they are unaware that they have conceived a child, and some may even be unaware that putative father registries even exist. Because of these limitations, some people believe these registries have too much power in determining whether a presumed father will assume his parental rights.
Another major shortcoming is that states’ putative father registries operate independently from other states. If a man is registered in Kansas, for example, but the woman who is looking for him contacts the Missouri registry, she would be told that no one of that name is registered because the two registries are separate from one another.
Some critics of the state registries believe a publicized national putative father registry would correct many of these shortcomings. As more presumed fathers become aware of such registries, they would better understand their parental rights, and the issue of fragmented state registries would be solved.
However, for now, the putative father registry is often the best way for a man to protect his parental rights.
Does My State Have a Putative Father Registry?
Men who believe they may have fathered a child and want to preserve their parental rights should register with their respective state’s putative father registry within the state’s specified deadline. The following is a list of states that have paternity registries and the deadlines in which to file a claim to paternity:
- Alabama Putative Father Registry* – Must register prior to the child’s birth or within 30 days after birth
- Arizona Putative Father Registry – Must register prior to the child’s birth or within 30 days after birth
- Arkansas Putative Father Registry – Must register prior to filing of petition for adoption
- Delaware Putative Father Registry – Must register prior to the child’s birth or within 30 days after birth
- Florida Putative Father Registry* – Must register prior to filing of termination of parental rights
- Georgia Putative Father Registry* – Must register prior to the placement of the child for adoption
- Illinois Putative Father Registry* – Must register prior to the child’s birth or within 30 days after birth
- Indiana Putative Father Registry* – Must register prior to the child’s birth, within 30 days after birth or by the date of the filing of an adoption petition (whichever is later)
- Iowa Putative Father Registry – Must register prior to the child’s birth or before filing of adoption or termination of parental rights
- Louisiana Putative Father Registry – Must register prior to termination of parental rights hearing
- Minnesota Father’s Adoption Registry* – Must register prior to the child’s birth or within 30 days after birth
- Missouri Putative Father Registry* – Must register prior to the child’s birth or within 15 days after birth
- Montana Putative Father Registry* – Must register within 72 hours after the child’s birth
- Nebraska Biological Father Registry – Must register prior to the child’s birth or within 5 days after birth
- New Hampshire Putative Father Registry* – Must register prior to mother’s surrender or termination of parental rights
- New Mexico Putative Father Registry – Must register within 10 days after the child’s birth
- New York Putative Father Registry – Must register prior to the setting of the final hearing
- Ohio Putative Father Registry – Must register within 15 days after the child’s birth
- Oklahoma Centralized Paternity Registry – Time limits are unclear
- South Carolina Responsible Father Registry* – Must be filed before the date of a petition for termination of parental rights petition has been filed and before an adoption petition has been filed
- Tennessee Putative Father Registry* – Must register prior to the child’s birth or within 30 days after birth
- Texas Paternity Registry – Must register prior to the child’s birth or within 31 days after birth
- Virginia Putative Father Registry* – Must register prior to the child’s birth or within 10 days after birth
- Wisconsin Paternal Interest Registry – Must register before the birth of the child or within 14 days after birth
- Wyoming Putative Father Registry – Must register prior to filing interlocutory hearing on petition for adoption
Note that in some states, additional steps may be required to establish paternity and maintain parental rights. Carefully consider your state’s paternity laws to ensure your legal rights are protected.
*In these states, filing with the registry is the sole means for establishing the right of notice.
Alternative Means of Establishing Paternity
If your state does not have a paternity registry, there are several states that allow putative fathers to claim paternity by filing voluntary acknowledgment of paternity with state social services departments, or registrars of vital statistics. In states that do not have a putative father registry or a voluntary paternity acknowledgement, paternity can be established by court order. Contact the appropriate department in your state to learn more.
Final Thoughts on Birth Father Rights and Putative Father Registries
Putative father registries are essential to preserving a man’s Supreme Court-backed right in developing a relationship with his children. Without these registries, a man may be oblivious to the fact that he has conceived a child.
While there are clearly many functions that can be implemented into the registries, such as communication between all states through a national putative father registry, the current system is beneficial for all parties involved in an unplanned pregnancy or adoption.
To ensure all aspects of your adoption are handled legally, work closely with your adoption attorney.