More and more fathers are asking to be involved in the adoption process and in establishing their rights as equal parents. There are means for a father to assert himself as an active participant in the adoption process.
How States Define a Father
There is no federal law regarding birth fathers, so it is up to states to provide definitions of what a “birth father” can be. Some states will use different terms, such as “assumed father”, “alleged father” or “putative father”. All of these generally mean someone who claims or is claimed by others to have a biological connection to a child. If the child is older, showing that the father has lived with or provided support for the child can also go toward asserting paternity.
Establishing Your Place in the Discussion
Remember that you cannot be involved unless you make yourself known. The laws vary from state to state, so be sure to consult your state’s Health and Human Services Department. Adoption.net provides a handy guide to what you may need in your state to get involved in the adoption process. For the most part, establishing paternity well before the adoption process begins, either through court orders, DNA testing, or voluntary admissions, will allow for a smoother and more equal process.
Additionally,some states have a putative registry. This registry provides fathers a means of asserting their status as a father, even if this status is not recognized by a court. This database also allows men to receive notices if their child is involved in any court proceedings, such as being put up for adoption or the termination of parental rights. If your state does not have a putative database, you can establish your paternity by filing an affidavit or an acknowledgement of paternity with the court or the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. The Centers for Disease Control can help you find the appropriate department in your state.
Keep in mind that some states have a limited period in which you can file your claim, and the time can start as soon as a child is born. Again, it is important that you check with your state about what you need to do. Some states allow for a notice in a local paper if the father is unknown, but there have been controversies over how likely a potential father is to receive this notice. Additionally, you may want to register in multiple states if you move or if the child could be born elsewhere.
If a father is unaware that he is a father, then his rights are limited. Filing the appropriate paperwork and being proactive are crucial to being an active participant in this process. It is also important to show examples of a commitment to a parental role, such as providing emotional and physical support. At this stage, consulting a family law attorney may be beneficial.
It is a good idea to remember that emotions are high for everyone involved in this process, not just the birth parents. Prospective adoptive parents wish to provide a home for a child, while birth parents, their families, and their children can have feelings of loss, anger and powerlessness. Additionally, the lack of a “proper” way to address these feelings can make them worse and can create additional conflict. It is beneficial to avoid obstructing the process to show anger about not being involved earlier–remember, your goal is to provide the best possible environment for your children. Being cooperative and respectful can help you and avoid putting additional emotional pain on the child.
Being proactive in the adoption process is vital to asserting your rights as a birth parent. Remember that you need to make yourself known in a civil and considerate manner to maximize your rights. Having the goal of creating the best life for your children is the main focus of these tasks, and should be the aim for everyone involved.