Discussions of infant adoption often center around the baby, the birth mother, and the adoptive parents. Adoption terminates a birth mother’s legal rights to her child, the father’s legal rights, and establishes parental rights in the person or couple adopting the baby. What place does a birth father have in this scenario, and what rights does a birth father have to establish paternity and prevent his child from being surrendered for adoption? In Ohio, the Ohio Putative Father Registry can help a father protect his parental rights.
What is a Putative Father—and What is the Ohio Putative Father Registry?
What is a “putative father?” According to the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services, a putative father is a man (including one under the age of eighteen) who may be a child’s father, if all of the following apply:
- He is not married to the child’s mother at the time of the conception or birth;
- He has not adopted the child;
- He has not acknowledged paternity of the child through a paternity affidavit or the child’s birth certificate before the filing of an adoption petition for the child; and
- He has not been determined, prior to the date a petition to adopt the child has been filed, to have a parent-child relationship with the child by a court proceeding.
The Ohio Putative Father Registry (OPFR) allows a man who has fathered a child out of wedlock (or believes he has) to be notified if the child is placed for adoption. This notification gives the putative father the opportunity to pursue his parental rights, such as pursuing custody (allocation of parental rights and responsibilities).
The OPFR can also protect other parties. An interested party to an adoption can request a search of the registry to determine whether a putative father might exist. The registry can prevent a situation in which a birth mother surrenders a child for adoption, and the birth father only learns of the adoption too late to assert any rights he may have to the child.
Recent Ohio Case Highlights Importance of OPFR
A recent case raised the question of when it is too late for a biological father of an infant to contest an adoption. The case involved a girl who became pregnant at the age of 17, and her boyfriend, who was 18 at the time. Early in her pregnancy, the girl told her boyfriend she planned to surrender the baby for adoption; the boyfriend was opposed to that plan.
The baby was born a week prior to the due date, and immediately placed with prospective adoptive parents. The young man learned of the birth and placement 17 days after the baby’s birth, and immediately registered with the Ohio Putative Father’s Registry. A juvenile court determined that the young man was the baby’s biological father. Unfortunately, the OPFR requires that a putative father register either before the child’s birth or within 15 days thereafter.
The birth father argued that he should have legal rights because he has established that he is the baby’s legal father. The birth mother’s attorney and the adoptive family insisted that allowing putative fathers to assert their rights after the 15-day window could allow adoptions to be disrupted weeks, months, or even years after a child is settled into an adoptive family. The court agreed – 15 days is an absolute deadline, and failure to register within that time period was the end of any potential parenthood.
It’s unclear whether the baby’s birth father was aware of the OPFR during the pregnancy. If he had been, he could have quickly and effectively protected his parental rights without the need for the litigation that ultimately ensued.
How Putative Fathers Can Protect Their Rights
Any Ohio man who believes he is the biological father of a baby who is not yet born or who has been born within the past 15 days should register with the OPFR as soon as possible if he has any interest in asserting parental rights. He can always decide later to consent to an adoption, but if he fails to register within the allotted time, he may find it impossible to later contest an adoption.
Men can register with the Ohio Putative Father Registry either online or by mailing or emailing a registration form. The form is not long or difficult to complete, but it does require the putative father to provide personal information about the putative father, the mother, and the child (if the child has been born). There is no fee to register.
In order to be sure he is notified of a potential adoption of his child, a man must keep the OPFR informed of any address changes. If a man believes he may be the father of more than one child, he should place his name on the registry for each child.
If you have questions about the putative father registry in Ohio, about establishing parentage, or about protecting your legal rights as a father, please contact Melissa Graham-Hurd & Associates to schedule a consultation.