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Putative or “Punitive” Father Registry?
Putative or “Punitive” Father Registry?

Rita Fuerst Adams the National Executive Director of Fathers and Families has recently released an article on the National Father Registry:

“Congresswoman Laura Richardson introduced the Protecting Adoption and Promoting Responsible Fatherhood Act of 2012. This legislation will create a National Responsible Father Registry, often referred to as a putative registry. Its stated purpose is to give unwed fathers the chance to register and be notified of court proceedings involving the child and to relieve birth mothers of the burden of notifying the birth fathers.

Generally, a “putative father” is a man who may be a child’s father, but who was not married to the child’s mother before the child was born and has not acknowledged that he is the father or established that he is the father in a court proceeding.

Why were putative fathers registries created? Over one-third of all births are to unwed parents. According to the proponents of such registries, adoption proceedings for these children can be delayed, contested, and disrupted when paternity is in question.

A Putative Father Registry mandates that unwed fathers mail in a postcard to register their possible claim for paternity rights in a timely manner. Thus, the registry places the responsibility on the father . Mothers, however, do not need to identify the father or potential fathers.

Adoption agencies and attorneys favor registries because adoption proceedings can then commence without the possibility of disruption due to late paternity claims. Proponents claim:

  • The privacy and safety of the mother is secured because she does not have to identify the possible father nor inform the father of her pregnancy.
  • The privacy of the father is protected in that notice is mailed only to the secure address he has provided the registry.
  • Both mother’s and father’s privacy are protected in that no names are published in the newspaper.

Thirty-four states use registries to give putative fathers an opportunity to file notice of their claims to paternity. In many states, a man who has not filed with the putative father registry will not receive notice of any termination of parental rights and/or any adoption court proceedings regarding the child.

According to Congresswoman Richardson, “Too often, a child misses a critical window of opportunity to be adopted simply because there is a lengthy and cumbersome process of locating the father and adjudicating his parental rights.”

A companion version of the bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. Landrieu and Richardson have been working closely on this legislation for the past two years. The National Council for Adoption and the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys endorse it.

Proponents of the national registry state it will:

  • Link together current putative fathers registries in the thirty-four states with registries and provide the opportunity of registration to fathers in the remaining sixteen states without registries.
  • Continue to be voluntary and free of charge and not require a DNA test.
  • Protect the privacy of mothers, as the registry will not release any information about the mother or where she is living.
  • Be accessed only by licensed adoption or child placement agencies, state courts, and licensed attorneys to aid in the efficacy of the child placement processes.

At least twenty-four states have established a Putative Father Registry where a father can voluntarily acknowledge paternity. Thirteen states have provisions for voluntary acknowledgment of paternity through forms that are filed with various entities, including social services departments and registrars of vital statistics. In twenty-one states, a person may claim paternity to a child by filing an acknowledgment or affidavit of paternity with a court. All states offer parents the opportunity to voluntarily acknowledge a child’s paternity until the age of 18. Forty-three states make provisions in their statutes that allow putative fathers to revoke or rescind a notice of intent to claim paternity; fourteen states allow revocation at any time.

In ten states, filing with the putative father registry is the only means for an unmarried father who acknowledges paternity to establish his right to receive notice of court proceedings regarding the child, including petitions for adoption or actions to terminate parental rights. So, if you do not register, whether or not you have knowledge of a baby, your paternal rights will be terminated.

The Supreme Court has held on three occasions that unwed fathers are constitutionally entitled to notice of adoption proceedings of children with whom they have established relationships. And that is the key point: established relationships. Questions arise as to what constitutes a relationship with a newborn and evidence of assuming paternal responsibilities. To address these issues, and related legal issues, court decisions and state laws provide that:

  • Registries are constitutional and do not deny father’s due process or equal protection.
  • A timely registered unwed father is insured notice at the address he provided the registry.
  • Fathers bear the burden of registering in a timely manner. Failure to do so can be viewed as pre-birth abandonment and, therefore, grounds to foreclose the father’s rights.
  • The period of pregnancy plus a defined number of days after birth is adequate time for unwed fathers to protect paternity rights and to indicate their interest and ability to assume parental responsibilities.
  • Notice of pending adoptions is not required for unwed fathers who have not filed or not filed in a timely manner with the Putative Father Registry or otherwise established paternity legally.
  • Intercourse serves as notice of possible conception. A lack of knowledge of a pregnancy or birth does not constitute an acceptable reason for failing to register.

Advocates state this will reduce the number of adoptions that are disputed or disrupted. Basically, it makes the work of the adoption agencies and attorneys easier and it allows mothers to block children’s relationships with their fathers.”

Florida currently has such a registry in place.