Father’s Rights in Adoption Proceedings

Every year, over 120,000 children are adopted in the United States.  In fact in a country with now over 300 million citizens, it is worthy to note that the majority of Americans are personally affected by adoption, meaning that “they themselves, a family member, or a close friend was adopted, had adopted a child, or had placed a child for adoption.”  Although adoption affords young persons an opportunity to become a member of a new family, it simultaneously removes the child, at least legally, from another family. 

Countless articles have told the story of mothers who are unable to care for a child reluctantly signing papers which relinquish their parental rights, and the struggles they face throughout life based on that very personal, heart wrenching decision.  In the last couple of decades the antiquated belief that a father could not raise children alone has provoked almost every state to provide legal rights for fathers of minor children subject to adoption.

In order to understand whether a purported father in a given state has rights to object to an adoption requires an individual to realize two distinctions, one of which is obvious and the other more refined.  First, since for the most part, the biological mother gives birth to the child, there is generally no dispute as to the mother’s identity.  Conversely, since the father’s identity can only be proven for certain by a paternity test, it is subject to more argument.  Second, laws in most states have contrasted “presumed” (or legal) fathers and “putative” (biological or non-legal) fathers.  A presumed father is generally defined as a man who was married to the mother during the pregnancy or alternatively a man who has established paternity before the adoption petition was filed.  Although states differ as to how one can establish paternity, Georgia deems men who subsequently marry the child’s mother or those who have successfully petitioned the appropriate court in a legitimation proceeding as presumed fathers.  Putative fathers, on the other hand, are men who were not married to the mother during the pregnancy and neglected to establish paternity pursuant to the state’s requirements prior to the filing of the adoption petition. 

Both presumed and putative fathers are entitled to notice of the adoption proceedings, but putative fathers must take steps to sufficiently warrant the issuance of notice.  In Georgia, according to the applicable statute, a putative father is entitled to notice where: (1) the petitioner or petitioner’s attorney knows of the father’s identity, (2) the father has registered on the putative father’s registry, or (3) lived with the child, contributed support to the child or mother, or made any attempt to legitimate the child based on the mother’s affidavit or from other evidence. 

The Putative Father’s Registry was established in Georgia in 1992 by the General Assembly in an effort to facilitate locating absent parents.  However admirable, this law for the most part neglects to implement strategies necessary to actually locate absent parents and protect their rights, but instead becomes a quick device used largely to deny father’s rights who neglect to register.  Obviously, if a father does not know about the child, it is practically impossible to presume that he would register or otherwise take steps to object to an adoption proceeding.

Nevertheless, registering on the state’s list is akin to a prerequisite for biological fathers who have not otherwise exhibited “parental” actions which would in turn be acknowledged through an affidavit by the mother.  In Georgia, the General Assembly makes an assumption, whether valid or not, that “an unmarried man is deemed to be on notice that if he engages in a sexual relationship, a pregnancy may occur.  If one adheres to this advice, it would behoove an individual to follow the rather simplistic steps set forth in this article as opposed to counting on the party’s sexual partner (and mother of his child) to willingly disclose his identity and whereabouts.

Becoming a registrant on the State’s list is easy.  According to the statute, you need to fill out the Putative Father Registry Registration Form (Form Number 3960) which can be downloaded from the link following this article.  The Georgia Division of Public Health notes that a registrant should provide the Agency with his name,
current residence address, Social Security number, complete name of the mother (including maiden name), mother’s most recent address, mother’s social security number (if known), and the name, sex, and birth date of the child. Alternatively, if the child is not yet born, the Agency requests that you provide the estimated date of delivery.  Moreover, you are encouraged to register as many times as needed, and to update information including a change of residence.

If the mother’s affidavit indicates that the biological father has not registered on the Putative Father’s Registry or performed any of the various acts tending to prove an interest in the child’s life, a presumption exists which holds that the father is not entitled to notice.  Although the affidavit requirement is designed to assist the appointed agency in investigating the necessity in alerting potential fathers, it is somewhat flawed in that it assumes a mother will divulge the identity of all men who could potentially be the child’s father.

Even assuming that a man is found to have sufficiently registered or otherwise been deemed worthy of notice, the statute does not require anyone to give you a call or knock on your door to alert you of a pending adoption proceeding.  Instead, proper notice can be effectuated by publication
once a week for three weeks in the official organ of the county where the petition has been filed and of the county of his last known address.  The statute does note that, if feasible, the father shall be sent the documents by certified or U.S. Mail at his last given mailing address.

Although the law has come a long way from the antiquated views which afforded fathers no rights in objecting to an adoption, the rules of the game still depend largely on the willingness of the mother to disclose the man’s identity.  In fact, the only other way a putative father in Georgia who does not know that he is a parent to the child may protect his rights and receive notice of an adoption proceeding and be afforded an opportunity to be heard is to sign up on the state registry at the link below.


End of Content Icon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *