When a family makes the decision to place a child for adoption, they are making one of the hardest decisions that they will ever be called on to make. Unfortunately, too often it is a decision made by the birth mother without involvement by the birth father. This occurs for many reasons, including the birth father’s lack of knowledge about the pregnancy.
For an adoption to be approved by a court, the child’s biological parents must generally give their consent (in a limited set of cases, even without the consent, the judge may grant the adoption when doing so is in the best interests of the child). Of course, if the birth mother does not know the birth father, or cannot contact him, he cannot give his consent to the adoption — or assert his fundamental right to raise his child.
The problem regarding absent biological fathers has long been a thorny one in adoption cases. For some thirty years, some states have addressed this problem with “putative father registries”.
A putative father registry is a legal requirement, adopted by twenty U.S. states, that all non-married males must document with the state each female with whom they engage in heterosexual sexual intercourse if they wish to retain parental rights to any child that they may father.
A putative father registry is a clever way to resolve the problem of the unknown birth father, because it provides a central repository of information to collect the data. It can also provide a birth father with an effective way of ensuring that before an adoption is finalized, he will be notified if a woman with whom he had intercourse is placing her child for adoption.
But whatever theoretical benefits a putative father registry might have, they have not been successful.
Of the thirty-three states that have putative father registries, about half have little or no useful information about the registry — including how to register and how to search — available online. Some of the states require registration using a Microsoft Word document (which is useful only if you own a copy of Microsoft Word). Indeed, the State of Kansas website has no information about its putative father registry other than a link to a Kansas Supreme Court Opinion, Murray v. Palmgren, 231 Kan. 524, which holds that ignorance of the law is no excuse. Nevertheless, the United States Supreme Court held in 1983 that the use of putative father registries to inform birth fathers of their parentage rights and to terminate those rights when a father has not complied with the putative father registry law is constitutional.
The Court explained in Lehr v. Robertson, 463 U.S. 248, that when an unwed father demonstrates a full commitment to the responsibilities of parenthood by coming forward to participate in the rearing of his child, his interest in personal contact with his child acquires substantial protection under the Due Process Clause. But, the Court added, the mere existence of a biological link does not merit equivalent protection. Thus, if the natural father fails to grasp the opportunity to develop a relationship with his child, the Constitution will not automatically compel a State to listen to his opinion of where the child’s best interests lie. The Supreme Court found that the state has adequately protected a birth father’s inchoate interest in assuming a responsible role in the future of his child because the right to receive notice was completely within appellant’s control. In addition, the State had a reasonable concern that a more open-ended notice requirement would merely complicate the adoption process, threaten the privacy interests of unwed mothers, create the risk of unnecessary controversy, and impair the desired finality of adoption decrees.
Use these links for more information about the putative father registries in these states:
If you are aware of additional relevant information, including better links, please advise us.