Fathers’ Rights in Adoption

I began composing this post a while ago and planned for it to be mainly a research-focused article highlighting the rights fathers do and do not have when it comes to their children being adopted out. Then the unfathomable happened: Dusten Brown was forced to relinquish his four-year-old daughter, Veronica, to the couple who have been trying to adopt her since before she was born. Even though she has lived with him for the past two years. Even though he began fighting for her as soon as he found out about the adoption plan, which was when she was four months old. Even though he is her biological father and provided a stable, loving home for her.

I am outraged, as an adoptee and as a mother.

As an adoptee, I sympathize with Veronica, who is now losing her family once again and, even worse, losing precious time with her own father to satisfy the needs of an infertile adoptive couple who are not related to her biologically. Let me state here for the record that I am not anti-adoption. There are many kids out there who have lost their parents, either because their parents have died or because their parents are incapable of caring for them. I believe adoption is the best option for these kids who need loving, stable families. But Veronica is NOT one of those kids! Veronica has a father who is willing and capable of raising her. In fact, he has been fighting to raise her for almost all of her life. Those who are not adopted do not know what it is like to grow up without your blood family. Even under the best of circumstances, in the best homes with the best adoptive parents, many adoptees still struggle throughout their lives because of that lack of connection to their own biological relatives. Not all, but many. And these are not the best circumstances. In fact, Veronica is being adopted under the worst imaginable circumstances — against the will of her own family. She has literally been removed from the safe, loving home of her own father in order to uphold a law that grants the biological strangers who want to adopt her more rights than her own blood relatives.

As a mother, this situation outrages me for two reasons: first, because I know I would be devastated if anyone took my children away from me, and second, because I now know that my own son could potentially go through this horror one day. Why? Because adoption law is currently decided at the state level, and most states don’t care too much about the DNA a father and child share.

Defining a Father

Consider this research: In November 2006, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute published a paper called “Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of Birthparents in the Adoption Process.” Mostly it focuses on birth mothers, both prior to and after relinquishing, but it also contains a couple of enlightening sections on birth fathers. First, the paper makes clear that there is a distinct difference in this country between a “legal” father and a “putative” father. It is assumed that a woman’s husband is the father of her child — whether or not this is biologically true — therefore, by default a married man becomes the legal father of his wife’s child. If a woman is unmarried, however, the biological father of her child (aka, the putative father) must in most states just about swallow fire or cut off his own hand to prove his worthiness to be considered a legal father.

. . . unwed men need to take specific actions to protect their parental rights. They can best accomplish his before childbirth by providing financial and emotional support to the mother, visiting and communicating regularly with her, and registering in a state putative father registry if there is one.

In case you’ve never heard the term before, a putative father registry is a state-maintained registry that a single man must sign up on if he believes he’s co-created a little human in his own image. If this sounds ludicrous to you, too, then you’ll enjoy this take on it written by an unmarried law student in Ohio. The Donaldson Institute paper points out the problem with these registries in a more straight-laced fashion:

Most Americans do not even know these registries exist, however, and they have other inherent problems – for instance, if a man registers in his own state but the adoption is taking place in another, the court will not know the father explicitly expressed his intentions. Lack of registration therefore should not be used as a means of excusing notification of a known father or excluding a putative father’s participation. [emphasis mine]

The paper goes on to explain how cultural stereotypes (for example, that of the deadbeat dad) influence laws and policies pertaining to father’s rights. It also points out that an unwed father’s involvement in his child’s life is largely dependent on the relationship he has with the child’s mother.

Adoption Laws Pertaining to Fathers’ Rights

States’ laws differ greatly when it comes to a putative father’s rights in an adoption case. Some states don’t require that a putative father even be identified. Many states’ laws are written in such a way that even if the identity of a putative father is known, loopholes exist whereby the birth mother and/or adoption agency need not make an exhaustive effort to notify him of the impending adoption. Only in a few states do mothers or agencies face penalties for not identifying or not notifying a known putative father.

The report recommends the following in regard to birth fathers:

Provide more aggressive protection of biological fathers’ rights by requiring identification by the mothers whenever possible, making consistent good-faith efforts to find and notify them, and including them in the adoption process whenever and to whatever extent possible. [emphasis mine]

It notes that adoptees need their fathers just as they need their mothers:

Ideally, adopted children should know that their birthfathers are people of value who cared about them and their welfare. They also need to know a range of information about and from their birthfathers, such as medical and family history; when possible. It is also beneficial – obviously contingent on circumstances – for the children to get to know their biological fathers as individuals. Adopted people’s own identities and their emotional resolution of their separation from birth families are influenced by their perceptions and attitudes about both birthparents.

According to the paper, in the few studies of birth fathers that have been done, the majority of these men reported that they were either left out of the adoption decision entirely or were “inadequately involved.” They expressed feeling “distress, resentment, and confusion about the adoption.” Even though most men contacted had not ever seen their children, they thought about them frequently and felt a connection to them. Some men reported having issues in later romantic and parenting relationships as a result.

Unfortunately, in the case of Veronica, it seems her father, Dusten Brown, fell victim to these outrageously antiquated laws that give single mothers leeway to cut off their children’s fathers and that enable unscrupulous adoption agencies plenty of wiggle room to rapidly push newborns into the waiting arms of their paying customers. Many people on the Internet like to point to the law as being the final word in this as well as other adoption cases, but I fail to understand how anyone can justify taking a child away from her own biological father based on laws like these. Maybe they don’t realize that this could easily happen to their own brothers or, even worse, to their own sons. Maybe they don’t stop to think about how many families lose their children every day because of laws like these.

I know they don’t think about the children themselves, because if they did, we would see an uprising of outrage in demand for new adoption laws that better support our modern families, that recognize fathers equally to mothers.

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10 thoughts on “Fathers’ Rights in Adoption

  1. “Dusten Brown, fell victim to these outrageously antiquated laws that give single mothers leeway to cut off their children’s fathers and that enable unscrupulous adoption agencies plenty of wiggle room to rapidly push newborns into the waiting arms of their paying customers.” best statement in article and most accurate, I think!

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  2. Reblogged this on The Life Of Von and commented:
    “Unfortunately, in the case of Veronica, it seems her father, Dusten Brown, fell victim to these outrageously antiquated laws that give single mothers leeway to cut off their children’s fathers and that enable unscrupulous adoption agencies plenty of wiggle room to rapidly push newborns into the waiting arms of their paying customers.”

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  3. I’m in Ohio and I have to say that these antiquated laws protected me when a married man knocked me up. Now, ours was a weird situation, because he was supposedly in an open marriage; I was also somewhat friends with his wife. (She backed him up, but it turned out there were certain rules between them that he had neglected to follow.) But the situation deteriorated, and especially after I got pregnant. Because Ohio only recognizes the mother half of the unwed procreating couple as the legal parent, no matter what is on the birth certificate, I didn’t have to worry about a married couple going to court and taking my daughter from me.

    (I might not have had to worry anyway because their house had six cats in it and was filthy and even as poor as I was, my home was a much better environment. I’m just saying.)

    I realize I’m saying “this means some floozy can come steal your husband, get a kid out of the deal and you have no recourse to punish her,” but if we’re thinking about the rights of the kids, you know as well as I do that in a situation like this, the child would grow up not knowing their mother, and hearing all manner of nasty things said about her. That’s not good for the child.

    And when the father’s not married himself, when they’re both single, there’s still room for him to play games with the mother’s life. A lot of these guys just want to parent their children but not all of them have benevolent intentions. Think about the over thirty states where rapists have visitation rights, for crying out loud.

    Being a father is NOT exactly the same as being a mother. The relationship to the child is completely different, biologically if not socially. It’s different from the child’s point of view too. And even when the procreating couple is married, the mother usually does more parenting work than the father, sees the kids for more total time than the father does, and is closer emotionally to the child in a lot of cases. That matters. I don’t want this winding up being like King Solomon’s quandry, you know? I want these situations addressed as they are. I’m concerned that while we are fighting for fathers’ rights, and rightfully so, we’re going to wind up letting them run all over mothers’ rights, which are already in danger in this country if you set one single foot out of line.

    I want the laws changed where the biological parents must be on the birth certificate (and if that gets in the way of gamete donation or reproductive technology, too effing bad) and where the father is the next person in line for custody of the child, NOT the foster care system and NOT biological strangers, if the mother can’t cut it as a parent. And I want ICWA to supersede state law and be based on biological relationship, not state definitions of “father”, where ICWA is applicable. But let’s be careful not to go overboard here.

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    1. Individual cases can certainly be complicated, and yours is a an example of just how so. Being a biological mother myself, I know that I have a special bond with my children due to the fact of my carrying them in my body, breastfeeding them, etc. That being said, as a daughter, I also know how important both of my biological parents are to me. I have a unique perspective as an adopted person because I have two mothers and two fathers; I now know all of them, though I didn’t while I was growing up. My biological father and I have things in common that I never imagined came from DNA. He missed out on being involved in most of my life (as did my bio mom), yet we still have a strong bond, and that can only come from our being related by blood since we have virtually no shared experience. I don’t mean to discount the bond between a mother and child in any way. But neither do I believe that a mother should be considered the “best parent” by default. And a prospective adoptive parent should never be able to trump an able and willing natural parent, in my opinion.

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