Something To Think About: In Adoption, Fathers Have Few Rights

040456be40b65c65439284ca4ab4f3f4Mother places child for adoption. Parents try to adopt child. But where’s the father?

Here is how it works in Ohio, the state where I live. Hopeful adoptive parents take the baby home once mother has signed surrenders. Most agencies will not let you take the baby home sooner but the surrenders can be signed at 72-hours post-partum so it’s not that long a wait. This is not adoption, not yet. In Ohio, the baby is not actually adopted until at least six months have gone by. Theoretically the mother has 30 days after surrender to contest the adoption. This is very nearly impossible to win since there must be indisputable coercion present (say, for example, the mother signed the surrenders at gun point). It is very hard to prove anything as nebulous as emotional coercion (such as a woman who will lose her housing if she brings the baby home).

Theoretically the father also has 30 days to contest the adoption.

A man who believes he may be the father of the child of an unmarried mother may preserve his right to contest to the child’s adoption by registering with the Ohio Putative Father Registry. Even fathers under the age of 18 may register with the Ohio Putative Father Registry.

A putative father is a man who may be the father of a child, but is not married to the child’s mother when she becomes pregnant or when the child is born, AND he has not adopted the child, AND a court or child support enforcement agency has not decided he is the child’s legal father. Registration can occur at any time during pregnancy, but no later than 30 days after the birth of the child. Registration with the Ohio Putative Father Registry does not make a man the legal father of a child and does not establish paternity, but it preserves the right to be notified if the child’s mother places the child for adoption. For more information, call the Ohio Putative Father Registry at 1-888-313-3100. (

Putative father registries exist in 33 states although each state may handle their registry differently. Some states demand putative fathers register within five days after birth; some allow them to register anytime after. This affects birth father rights but also the rights of hopeful adoptive parents and, of course, the babies who are living in limbo.

To contest an adoption (or to be told that an adoption is imminent), putative fathers must register in the state where they live, in the state where the mother lives (if different) and any state where she might visit. For example, some adoption agencies will fly an expectant mother from the state where she lives to the state where the agency operates and if the putative father is not registered in that state, he will forfeit his rights. Some states are less committed to protecting birth father rights (Utah is notorious for railroading fathers into adoption) and unscrupulous agencies will send expectant mothers there with the intention of keeping fathers from learning about the adoption. (See the story:

I’ve been thinking about this because of the very convoluted, very complicated case of Baby Veronica. Baby Veronica is a preschooler whose mother placed her for adoption without clear consent of her father, Dusten Brown. A South Carolina couple assumed physical custody of Veronica with the assumption that they were free to adopt her. The couple was present when Veronica was born and took her home from the hospital after her birth mother relinquished her parental rights. When Veronica was four months old, Dusten Brown was served with notification from the couple stating their intention to adopt her. Brown immediately initiated court proceedings to stop the adoption and gain custody of his daughter. At age two, Brown was given custody but the couple went back to court to fight the decision.

The case is further complicated by the differences in state adoption laws (Brown lives in Oklahoma and the couple live in South Carolina) and, notably, that Brown is a member of the Cherokee nation. If Brown were not Cherokee, it’s unlikely this case would have gone as far as it has. The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) states that Native American children may not be adopted into the homes of non-native people without the consent of tribe, regardless of the biological parents intentions. In this case, the ICWA became involved because they did not give consent.

In other words, it’s Brown’s rights as a Native American man and not as a father that have given him a fighting chance to parent his daughter.

We need to talk to our sons about this. We talk to daughters about pregnancy and choices and options but we need to talk to our sons specifically about their rights and lack thereof. I had no idea that putative father registries existed until we began the process to adopt our daughter. Most men I’ve talked to also have no idea that they exist.

Personally, as a pro-choice feminist, I unequivocally support a woman’s right to choose when it comes to abortion. However, when it comes to decisions about adoption, fathers should be able to participate in the decision-making. Putative father registries only work when men know about them, are able to access them easily and without confusion, and when the fathers who try to stay involved are given the space and support to do so.

Author’s Note: Readers interested in the court decisions around the Baby Veronica case can look to the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys site, which includes a pdf of the US Supreme Court Decision in Adoptive Couple v Baby Girl (

Art by Michael Lombardo

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