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Understanding Birth Father Rights

One of the biggest parental rights is the right to consent or object to the adoption of one’s 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 not married to the child’s mother must not only establish paternity, but also demonstrate a commitment and desire to parenting the child. How do they do that? 

Acknowledging Paternity

Establishing paternity is an important step in committing to help raise a child. Paternity determinations are sometimes voluntary, but typically take the form of civil lawsuits which utilize DNA testing to establish the identity of the child’s father.

A biological father wanting a say in adoption decisions should work to determine paternity as soon as possible. Failing to establish paternity can prevent a single father from gaining any parental rights at all. Waiting too long can demonstrate a lack of commitment to parent the child, even if that’s not true to how the father feels. 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 place the for adoption.

Timing and Unaware Fathers 

Fathers who don’t know about their children until after birth 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 starts running when the child is born (or even during pregnancy), not when the father learns about the child. There is precedent for courts determining that fathers unaware of their child may not later object to the child’s adoption, particularly when the father’s lack of knowledge was his own fault.

The facts of each case will differ, but to give oneself the best chance of guaranteed input in adoption decisions, an unmarried father should not wait to learn about potential children. Instead, he should proactively seek out knowledge of any children he may have fathered and take all steps possible to establish a parental connection.

Beyond acknowledging paternity, unwed dads must meet a larger requirement: a demonstrated commitment to parenting in order to gain constitutionally protected paternal rights. This means providing for the child’s material and emotional needs, and attempting to form the fullest possible parental relationship with the child.  

Showing that you’re ready to be a parent typically includes helping pay pregnancy, birth, and child support expenses after delivery. Some courts consider the fitness of the father to parent when determining his commitment to parenting. Emotional and mental support is profoundly important. Fathers who don’t provide support and who haven’t shown the ability to support the child during pregnancy and beyond, or who have demonstrated drug or alcohol problems, can be denied the right to object to adoption.

Objecting to Adoption

Depending on state law, fathers who don’t 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.

Establishing rights as a parent during the adoption journey can be a difficult and confusing time. It is important to consult with a professional regarding the laws in your state.