How to Protect Your Rights and Not Become a Birth Father
Your girlfriend (or ex) tells you that she is pregnant. You did not plan it, but this is what happens often in life. Perhaps you are taken aback, in shock, maybe do not handle it the “right” way from the get go. Perhaps you say something stupid and hurtful, and she does too. Or maybe you are thrilled and can’t wait to marry her and start a family. It doesn’t matter.
Take the Threat of Adoption as a Very Possible Reality
The minute you hear the word “adoption” your fatherhood is in danger. Do not wish it away. Do not think maybe she is going through a phase and will come about. Do not doubt that she will go through with it. If she has contacted an adoption agency or is in contact with a potential adoptive family, then you are in some serious trouble and your child is in serious danger of being adopted out.
Adoption agencies known exactly what to do to make the expectant birth father’s become “not an issue.” They know exactly what to say to her to keep her on the path of adoption. Do not trust the adoption counselors or the “nice” adoption agency professionals. They are “professionals” at applying subtle coercion the mother of your child to sign away her rights and you, basically, have almost none.
Protecting a Father’s Rights Before Birth; Establish Proof of “Support”
The following list is meant to serve as a basic guide of what to do to keep your rights intact. However, this is NOT legal advice as I am not a lawyer! But I have seen too many dad’s be completely blindsided by slick adoption agencies, rotten lawyers and devious mothers. By time they learn what monster they are really fighting, much of their previous “mistakes” – which were more because they were unaware and trusting – can be and are used against them.
Each state has their own laws and due to state laws already stacked against you, you must do much more than just expect a DNA test to prove your fatherhood of your child. It is not enough that the baby is your biological off-spring. You have to prove that you are “supporting” the child even before the baby is born. That means you must support the expectant mother during the pregnancy.
Marry the Mother of Your Child
Yes, it sounds odd in this day and age to push a shotgun wedding, but if you are legally married to the mother of your child, then you will considered the legal parent of said child. In many states, marrying the mother makes one the legal father only if the marriage occurs before the birth. A putative father can counter a mother’s unwillingness to execute a paternity affidavit regarding a living child by telling her that marriage will not give him rights or responsibilities. Also, if the mother is separated from her husband, the putative father must register and file a paternity claim, as the registration may not help him. You should have full parental rights and will have to be served paperwork to have your parental rights revoked. If you are NOT married to the mother or mother to be of your child, then you have much more work to do.
Live Together; Get Into the Same Household
If you live together, do NOT move out. Some states you must prove that you have maintained a household for a certain time frame and lived as a family to establish that you have a familiar relationship with the child. If the child is not yet born, that means you must be involved in the pregnancy. If you do not live together, try to make that happen.
Financial Support the Mother and the Pregnancy
You must contribute to the financial wellbeing of the mother and child to the best of your abilities. If you do not have a job, get one. If you do not have money; beg and borrow some. Go to the doctor’s appointments. Be there for the sonogram. Pay for her prenatal vitamins. Get her on your insurance. Get the baby’s room together. Buy a crib. Tell your family. Show your friends how stoked you are. Buy diapers.
A putative father can also set up a bank account that the mother can access for support purposes. As long as the putative father keeps money in the account and does not use the money himself, everything will be documented. He is also credited as supporting even if the mother never uses the account.
Watch Out for Thwarting
Now here is the tricky part; if she suddenly stops retuning your calls or moves out or ignores you, your texts and says she doesn’t need your money or your help; then be concerned. Be VERY concerned. There is a good chance that under the direction of an adoption agency or attorney she is beginning to set you up as “not supporting” the pregnancy. The legal term is “Thwarted Father”. But to prove that you were consciously kept apart for the mother and your unborn child, you must be able to prove that you tried over and over to be part of the pregnancy and were not allowed (thwarted) to be involved.
Do not stop being finically supportive, but if the word adoption has even been mentioned ONCE, then you must document EVEYTHING.
Document Financial Support During A Pregnancy Marked for Adoption
This is very very important.
If she takes money, then copy and date the cash or check, record the transfer, take a cell phone photo, get a receipt! Checks are best as they can be copied before and then, if cashed, the bank has the documentation. If you buy things for her and the baby (even French fries at MacDonald’s) keep and date the receipts. If she refuses to take money from you, then document the attempts anyway and PUT THE MONEY IN A SPECIAL ACCOUNT. You MUST be able to prove that you were supporting the pregnancy.
Keep a running record of your conversations, the doctor visits, with dates and hopefully witnesses that can back you up. Right now, you are being proactive to protect your paternal rights, so it can be a simple notebook with dates and notes and names.
Be Involved with the Adoption Agency
Now if there is an adoption agency involved, then you have real reason to be completely scared. At this point, a putative father should consult an attorney and consider having the attorney communicate with the agency–if an agency is known to be involved.
However, you want to stay on top of what is going on and pretend to stay involved without committing. By “pretend”, I mean do not be openly against the adoption and get yourself cut out of the process. Adoption agencies have been known to move moms out of state and basically hide her ( and your baby) from you. They can help get you locked out of the birth and hospital. It’s much better of you can be there for all of that legally, plus, it is your baby after all. You want to be there!
They will try to make you feel that you are being “difficult”. The agency might want to “talk’ to you and that conversation will most likely be about how wonderful the opportunities would be for your child should you relinquish. They will make you feel unworthy of parenting your own baby. They might make it seem that you are being “controlling” by not doing what the mother has “chosen”. They will make it seem like if you love her, and the baby, then you will want what is “best” and “adoption is best”. They will pit you against her as “unsupportive” because you do not “support” her choice to relinquish. They might even suggest that your behavior is selfish, mean and “abusive”. Their job is to make you comply and sign. Remember that NOTHING they say is the truth. You child needs you and you have a moral right to be the best father you can be for your child. Listen to their spiel, but do not commit. You can be in a permanent ” I need to think things over” stage for as long as possible.
NEVER agree to the adoption and if you have a weak moment where you give in to the pressure, the minute you come back to your senses, get all wishy-washy again. The goal here is to stay involved and INFORMED until the baby is born. If they cut you out now, it can be much harder.
Be Aware of How Your Parental Rights Can Get Terminated
Do Not Sign any Documents
What you want to be aware of is to NOT SIGN ANYTHING. Adoption agencies have been known to misrepresent the relinquishment consent forms and or get father’s to sign consents pre-birth. Get legal representation for yourself ( not through the adoption agency; do NOT accept an attorney that the adoptive parents or agency is paying for) to look over all documents.
Do Not Ignore Any Appointments, Dates, or Legal Documents You are Served
Do NOT hide out from the process server or ignore what they serve you with. There are sever and often small windows of opportunity to answer summons or file paperwork. Twenty days to respond to a court summons is exactly that; no sick days, no snow days. If you do not show up in court, they terminate your rights anyway, they do not just push it aside for another day.
Become an Expert on the Adoption Laws in your State
Because Adoption legislation falls under each states jurisdiction, every state has different variations of how things are done and what you need to do. What limited rights you do have and what the state needs to do to terminate your rights can be found with a bit of Goggling. Every state has a .gov site that lists all the laws and codes. Adoption law usually falls under child welfare, but you can usually find yourself in the right area by searching for variations of ” STATE Adoption laws relinquishment ” or “Relinquishment consent STATE adoption” etc. The Child Welfare Information Gateway has a detailed PDF that gives the particular laws of each state in regards to father’s rights. While I believe it was updated last in 2010, it does list the actual statues of the laws that you will need to know. Just makes sure you double check with the states .Gov site. Additionally, you can use their state statue search to find the adoption laws to any one state. Its a very handy tool!
You want to read up and be familiar on the specific actions that the state can take to terminate your parental rights and what you need to prove as a putative (unmarried) father or a legally married father of a child slated for adoption.
Become Familiar with Your States Putative Father’s Registries
On paper a Putative Father’s Registry is supposed to help protect you from having your parental rights terminated without your knowledge. The idea is that a man should register on the Putative Father’s Registry ( PFR) every time he sex with another woman. By registering, he is acknowledging that there is possibility of procreation and if the woman gives birth to a child, he desires to be notified so he is able to be a responsible father.
Now not all state have Putative father’s Registries and most men are not aware of PFRs or their importance until it is too late. They can also be hard to find even by the very people in the state capitals that are suppose to know about them.
Now in reality, adoption agencies use PFR as a tool to screw fathers out of their rights to their children because most father’s have no idea that they exist and certainly do not register every time they get a new sexual partner! Registration for a child also has time limits and usually , again, depending on state laws, the window of opportunity to register is small. Father’s usually have up to the birth of the child, but sometimes must be on records as a father as soon as 10 to 30 days after the birth. If you hear the word adoption, even in passing, be safe and register!
Be Aware of Adoptions Across State Lines
Now, if by chance the mother is in another state or you think she has moved/ been moved to another state, you need to register in that state as well. The location of the birth of the child will determine what state has control over the relinquishment of paternal rights, BUT the state that the potential adoption parents are in can also become part of the legal maneuvers. This is why you need to stay involved in “making the adoption plan” even while you are not agreeing to it; it is much easier knowing that PAP’s that the mother of your child has “matched” with is from Virginia rather than having to deal with all the PFR in EVERY available state!
Understand the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (“ICPC”)
Now if an adoption happens across to states , say mom is in Florida and PAP”S are in Georgia, the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children comes into play. The ICPC is a legal agreement between all the US states to transfer children across state lines for adoption. Basically, the “sending” state gets notified that a child is to be moved, that all the legal paperwork has been filed correctly and they approve the child being transferred. There is usually a time limit of 5 to 10 days after the birth before the PAP’s can “go home”, though they say it can be up to 6 weeks.
The sending state must provide the receiving state with notice of its intention to place a child across state lines. This requires the sending state to complete several forms and a case plan. These forms along with the case plan are forwarded to the receiving state’s Compact Administrator for review. Upon careful review and evaluation, the receiving state approves or denies the placement by sending notice of its decision to the sending state. If approved, procedures are initiated to place the child in the receiving state. Services for the child are to continue as if the child were still in his/her home state.
The ICPC is not a law written to help the father, or even to be applicable to him. In other words, even if the ICPC does not approve the placement, that may mean nothing regarding the putative father’s rights. It is a good idea to contact the ICPC office of the state from which your baby will/ be has been born and let them know that you are contesting the adoption of your child and will not relinquish your rights even to just try to stall the placement You want to keep your child within the state of birth and out of the adoptive families home.
Get Your Own Attorney/ Lawyer
Yes, I know it is very expensive and it will also be hard to find an adoption attorney that will take your case, but do not give up. Again, beg for money. Do not think that you can go at it alone. Do not think that justice will be on your side because it makes sense and is right. The adoption industry does not care about “right”; they care about getting your child in the home of strangers. The laws are stacked against and these people are professionals. They have many ways of making your rights disappear. It sounds horrible, but they will take things more seriously if you have your own lawyer and they will be less likely to be able to trick you with your own counsel present.
Additional Safeguards for When the Baby Slated for Adoption is Born
Get your Name on the Birth Certificate
The filling out of the baby’s birth certificate happens at the hospital usually the first day or the next after the birth. Again, this is why you do not want to be seen as openly hostile and against the adoption, so you can be there for this. There is nothing legal against your name being left off the birth certificate if you are not married to the mother of your child and many adoption agencies will counsel a mother to list the father as “unknown” even if you are very known! So be really nice to maternity floor nurses, ask them when the birth certificate vital information people are coming by, and be there. Get your name on the document. If you are unmarried, then the state might require you to file out additional paternity forms. Just do it.
Keep Physical Custody of the Baby
In adoption, it often seems that procession is 9/10ths of the law. No matter how nice they are or how much money they make, you really do not want you baby going to stay with the adoptive parents for any amount of time if you want to parent your baby. Too many times to count father’s rights were clearly violated and the courts agreed, but the adoptive parents won custody anyway because the courts took so long. There is usually a murky “best interests of the child” thought and that is followed up with the “adoptive parents are the only family this child has ever known”. Public opinion and often the courts, then rule in favor of the poor adoptive parents that love your child so much. Make sure you have a car seat and take that baby home with you.
You do NOT want your child to leave the state and/ or be in the custody of the adoptive parents. Asking for a third party to have custody of the child until the adoption is squashed completely is a good idea. While it is scary to think your child is in foster care for a while, better to be in foster care then an pre-adoptive home where “bonding” can occur. Visit the baby and take lots of pictures.
Stand Up Against Relinquishment Pressure
Once the baby is born, then the agency / attorneys will be itching to get the mother of the child to commit to relinquishment and sign off the legal paperwork. If the mother of the child really and truly does not want the baby, then she can still sign off and give custody to YOU. Again, do NOT sign anything. If you can convince the mother of the child to not sign relinquishment to adoption consent, then that’s great, but now is when you clearly state that you will not agree to the adoption. Do not just make phone calls or have conversations. Write letters to the agency, to the adoption attorneys, cc the mother of your child, her parents and the prospective adoptive parents. Send them all return receipt requested so you have proof that they all got them. Tape conversations, keep track of witnesses.
Be Prepared to Fight
If you have crossed all your t’s and dotted all your i’s, then the adoption professionals and the potential adoptive parents now know you are not willing to give in and this is an “at risk” adoption. If they continue on this path, be prepared for a long fight.
There might come a time where you need to stop trying to be a nice guy. That’s OK. Think father lion defending his cubs. A father will do what he must to protect his child. You ARE protecting your child form a real risk of adoption. When that time comes, do not hesitate. It might be before the birth, it might be after, but when you need to start speaking clearly, then do so. Do not hesitate to ask for help. Do not hesitate to go public. Use the media. Fight.
Please remember even if you do not win, someday your child will know that you did everything you could to be the dad and you wanted your child. THAT is important.
Be the Dad you want to be and fight for your rights and your child.