A woman always knows there is a baby on the way, but a father does not have guaranteed access to this information. This is especially true if a child’s parents are unwed, and the couple separates before the pregnancy is known to the mother or discovered by the father. A recent article in The Atlantic about paternity registries highlights the legal issues an unwed biological father has to contend with to maintain his parental rights to the child. The father discussed in the story actually knew about his girlfriend’s pregnancy, and actively and enthusiastically participated in doctor’s visits and planning for the baby’s arrival. However, prior to giving birth, the mother cut off communication with the father, had the baby, and placed the child for adoption without his consent. Throughout the United States, Florida included, an unwed mother has a legal right to give a child up for adoption without the father’s consent unless he takes specific steps to declare his paternity within a specified period of time. To help men who may be this situation, a brief overview of Florida adoption law and the Florida Putative Father Registry will be discussed.Florida Adoption Law
In order to legally adopt a minor, the natural parents must first consent to terminate their parental rights in the child. The mother is automatically granted parental rights, but a father only gains them if one of the following circumstances exists: he is married to the mother at the time of conception or birth, a court gives him parental rights before a petition to terminate parental rights is filed, he is listed on the birth certificate before a petition to terminate parental rights is filed, or he filed written acknowledgment that he is the father with the Office of Vital Statistics of the Department of Health before a petition to terminate parental rights is filed. Once the petition for termination is filed, the father’s parental rights cannot be changed. Thus, if a biological father does not comply with the requirements to establish parental rights listed above, the court assumes he has waived and surrendered all his parental rights, and his consent to the adoption is not necessary. The only exception is if a father demonstrates he was given false information that prevented him from asserting his parental rights. At that point, the court can overturn an order terminating his parental rights, thereby giving him an opportunity to gain legal custody of the child.Putative Father Registry
Realistically, once a father’s parental rights are terminated, it is very difficult to reestablish them, which is why it is extremely important to preserve your rights by listing your name on the Putative Father Registry as soon as you learn about the child. A diligent search of the Putative Father Registry is required before a court will terminate a father’s parental rights, and if your name appears on it, you must receive notice of any adoption proceedings. The only things necessary to get listed on the Registry include filing a form with Office of Vital Statistics and paying a filing fee.
If you are informed about an adoption proceeding and you want to protest, you must show the court you are willing to make a full commitment to parenting the child yourself. It should be noted the following requirements to establish a full commitment to parenting apply to children younger than six months. Those over six months require additional physical and financial contributions that will not be discussed here. Beyond listing your name on the Registry, and after you learn about an impending adoption, you are required to file an affidavit with the court declaring your commitment to the child and outlining your plans for providing for the child. Further, you must agree to pay some portion of the mother’s pregnancy and childbirth expenses.
Given the legal hurdles a biological father must overcome to preserve his parental rights, it is imperative to retain an attorney as soon as you have any reason to think the child may be placed for adoption by the mother. The attorneys at Stok Kon + Braverman, serving clients in the Fort Lauderdale and Boynton Beach areas, have over 50 years of combined experience in family law matters and are available to assist you with all matters related to paternity.