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A birthfather is a man who, with a woman, conceives a child who is later adopted or for whom an adoption is planned. He may also be called the biological father.
A putative father is a man who is alleged to be the birthfather, usually by the birthmother. He may or may not verify that he is in fact the father.
In the fairly recent past, people didn't think much (if at all) about what a biological father thought when his unmarried girlfriend decided on adoption for their child. It was assumed that he didn't care or he was glad someone else would take care of “the problem.” But this was not always a valid assumption in the past, and still isn't one now, particularly as the stigma of nonmarital childbearing has plummeted. More and more birthfathers are getting involved in the decisions that affect their children.
Laws on birthfathers' rights vary drastically from one state to the next, although all states address the issue in some manner:
- Some states have birthfather registries (also sometimes called putative father registries), where the birthfather must register his desire to parent the child if he wishes to assert his paternal rights. (Some states require that the biological father be notified of a pending adoption, whether he registers or not.)
- In addition, in many states, prospective fathers can register their “prebirth consent” to an adoption, even before the baby is born! This can make the situation much easier for the pregnant woman, who might otherwise fear that the birthfather will refuse to consent to the adoption after the baby is born and demand to raise the child himself. With the birthfather consent, she can feel freer to make her own decision about adoption. (Find out which states have prebirth consent options in the Summary of U.S. State Adoption Laws.)
- In some states, birthfathers must take immediate and decisive action to claim paternity rights and block an adoption. In other states, the burden is laid on the agency or attorney to locate the birthfather and determine if he will consent to the adoption.
- If the birthmother is married, most states assume that the biological father is her husband, even if that's not true. Thus, his consent to the adoption is nearly always necessary. (Some exceptions might be if the husband was in prison or out of the country at the time of conception. In such cases, the birthmother might be able to convince a judge to terminate the legal father's rights without his consent. But this varies greatly from state to state.) Some adoption arrangers, if they believe the biological father is another person, will obtain the consent of the husband and the alleged father.
A legal father is a man who is married to the birthmother at the time of conception or birth and who must consent to the adoption even if he isn't the biological father. If another man is the biological father, the adoption agency usually will provide notice to him about the adoption as well (although his consent may not be necessary, depending on state laws).
Finding the Birthfather
State laws vary a great deal on the responsibility of a putative (alleged) father in asserting his paternity. A few states rely on the assumption that if a man has intercourse with a woman, he should assume that he may have made her pregnant. If he wants to know whether he is to be a father, under this viewpoint, it's his responsibility to find out.
In many states, the adoption agency or attorney has an obligation to seek out the alleged father, either through phone calls, letters, or other means. If the father is unknown, the agency or attorney may publish a notice in the legal section of the newspaper (for example: “The child of Cheryl X, born on May 7, 2004, is to be adopted. If you think you may be the father of Cheryl X's child, then you must come forward within some time frame.”)
The birthmother may be uncomfortable with such advertising, but if it is required by state law, she must agree if she wants the adoption to go forth.
In some states, such as Illinois, if the birthmother says she does not know who the birthfather is, she must provide a statement explaining why she cannot identify him.
As a result, how a birthfather is regarded and treated in one state may be (and often is) very different from how he would be treated in another state. Until and unless some uniformity is created in birthfather adoption laws, this situation will continue.
Many states have a putative father registry, where men who think they have fathered children can register to assert their paternity and their desire to parent the child. They may be notified of a pending adoption by this registration and, if they are opposed to the adoption, can take legal steps to attempt to block it.