Everything You Need To Know About Putative Father Registries

Everything You Need To Know About Putative Father Registries

Last month, Christopher Emanuel won a legal battle that lasted more than a year to gain custody of his child whose mother had placed up for adoption without his knowledge.

Christopher and his girlfriend initially planned to keep their baby until Christopher met his girlfriend’s parents and they discovered he is African-American. Appalled, the racist couple convinced their daughter to put her baby up for adoption and deceive Christopher into thinking she would keep the baby.

Fortunately, Christopher had registered with South Carolina’s putative father registry, which showed that he intended to claim paternity. Because he registered, he possessed the legal grounds with which to dispute the adoption of his child, and eventually his daughter was returned to him.

It would have been difficult — if not impossible — to gain custody of his daughter, however, if Christopher had not signed up with the putative father registry.

A putative father is an unwed man who claims to be the father of a child, and a putative father registry is a central state database of the names of all putative fathers in that state. These registries are critical in protecting fathers’ rights in cases where the mother wants to give the child up for adoption.

Adoption law can be complex, especially when both parents are not present to consent to the adoption. If an unwed father is not present at his child’s birth and cannot be contacted, it is assumed that the father has given up his rights to object to the adoption because it simply takes too much time, money and resources for adoption agencies to track down every absent father to obtain their consent.

Basically, a putative father registry is a way for adoption agencies to differentiate between indifferent fathers (who do not wish to support the child) and unknowing fathers (those who wish to support the child but are unaware of the mother’s intent to put the child up for adoption).

Putative father registries protect unknowing fathers from the court’s assumption that they are indifferent by giving them an opportunity to claim responsibility before or shortly after their child’s birth. Once registered, fathers must be notified if the mother attempts to put their child up for adoption or terminate his parental rights.

It should be clearly noted that registering with a putative father registry is not the same as establishing paternity. Fathers must still establish paternity through a court order or a signed acknowledgment of paternity after registering, sometimes within 30 days, to play a role in their children’s lives.

Fathers listed on a putative father registry are not automatically granted custody, decision-making powers or visitation. However, the court can hold putative fathers financially responsible for their children, at least in part, and they may owe child support.

But despite the huge benefits that putative father registries can give fathers, only 24 states have them. And, among those who do, about half have registries that are difficult — if not impossible — to find online.

The consequences of not registering are too consequential for these registries to not be easily accessible. All states should have putative father registries because fathers, just as much as mothers, have the right to play a role in their children’s futures.

A recent Utah Supreme Court case involving unwed father Jake Strickland highlights the ubiquity of the unknowing father and the importance of registering.

According to Strickland, his ex-girlfriend vowed not to give their child up for adoption in exchange for him not establishing paternity.

However, informal agreements hold virtually no weight in a court of law. When she decided to give the child up for adoption against the father’s will and without his knowledge, the Utah Supreme Court decreed that Strickland gave up his parental rights by not filing for paternity or signing up with the Utah putative father registry before the adoption. Strickland lost the right to have custody of his child permanently.

Unwed fathers, no matter if the mother promises to keep the child or not, should register with their state’s putative father registry. Unwed fathers who live in states that do not have putative father registries should contact a family law attorney or their local government agency in charge of paternity cases to find out the best way to proceed.

Every father deserves the chance to help raise his child, so be proactive when it comes to securing your place in your children’s lives. A man’s parental rights should not be left to the whim of the mother.


Elizabeth Cordell

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