Parental Rights: Unmarried Fathers and Adoption
One of the biggest parental rights is the right to consent or object to the adoption of ones child. Generally, adoption requires the consent of both parents, provided they meet certain requirements. To gain parental rights, including the right to object to adoption, biological fathers unmarried to the mother must not only establish paternity, but also demonstrate a commitment to parenting the child.
Proactively establishing paternity is an important step in committing to help raise a child. Paternity determinations typically take the form of civil lawsuits which utilize DNA testing to establish the identity of the childs father.
A biological father wanting a say in adoption decisions should establish paternity as soon as possible. Failure to establish paternity can prevent an unmarried father from gaining any parental rights at all. Waiting too long can demonstrate a lack of commitment to parent the child. This can even mean needing to establish paternity before the birth of the child in certain cases, such as when the mother indicates early on in pregnancy a desire to put the child up for adoption.
To learn more about the rules in your state, see this collection of state-specific paternity laws.
Timing and Unaware Fathers
Fathers who do not know of their children until after the fact can find themselves out of luck in regards to adoption decisions. In some states, the clock on when a father should acknowledge paternity and start providing for the child begins running when the child is born (or even during pregnancy), not when the father learns about the child. Courts have held that fathers unaware of their children may not later object to the childrens adoption, particularly when the fathers lack of knowledge was his own fault.
The facts of each case will differ, but to give himself the best chance of guaranteed input in adoption decisions, an unmarried father should not wait to learn about potential children. He should proactively seek out knowledge of any children he may have fathered and take all steps possible to establish a parental role.
Commitment to Parenting
Beyond acknowledging paternity, unmarried fathers must meet a larger requirement demonstrated commitment to parenting in order to gain constitutionally protected paternal rights. This means providing for the childs material and emotional needs, and attempting to form the fullest possible parental relationship with the child.
Establishing a committed parental role typically includes helping pay pregnancy expenses, birth expenses and child support expenses after delivery. Some courts consider the fitness of the father to parent when determining his commitment to parenting. Fathers who do not provide support during pregnancy and beyond, who cannot show the ability to provide support, or who have demonstrated drug or alcohol problems can be denied the right to object to adoption.
The degree to which an unmarried father has the opportunity to play a parental role in the childs life often varies. However, doing everything he can to form a parental relationship, making himself as available as possible, and seeking legal recognition parental rights as soon as possible helps a father best position himself to maintain a say in adoption and other parental decisions.
Objecting to Adoption
Depending on state law, fathers who do not consent to the adoption of their child should file an objection to the adoption in the appropriate court, or in some cases with the state health and human services department. Often, an objection to adoption must include an indication of intent to petition for custody of the child in a short period of time, 30 days, for example.