Putative Fathers and Adoption in North Carolina
Erik L. Smith
A Child's Hope, LLC v. Doe, No. 05-679, 2006 N.C. App. LEXIS 1291 (N.C. App. Ct. June 20, 2006)
Well, so much for "inquiry." Here, the unwed mother and father had dated for about a year during college when the mother became pregnant. The father attended a prenatal appointment with the mother, cared for her other children so she could attend other prenatal appointments, engaged in conversations about naming the child, and bought a larger car to transport the child. While the mother was still pregnant, the father moved back home from college and began working odd jobs and seeking full-time employment. Meanwhile, he and the mother discussed baby names and planned to marry.
The father then told the mother that he was not ready to get married and the relationship broke off. But the father made his desire to care for the child clear. When the mother later asked the father about relinquishing his parental rights, the father replied that if she did not want the baby he would care for it. Later, the mother told the father that there was "no more baby." The father's aunt called the mother for clarification, whereupon the mother stated she had miscarried.
The mother then surrendered the child for adoption, swearing she did not know the father's identity or whereabouts because she had been raped while unconscious at a party thrown by unidentified people. She made no police report and no signs of rape were found upon examination. Based upon that information, the agency published notification in a newspaper to the unknown parent.
The father saw a news article about a baby that had been abandoned at a hospital around the time of the alleged miscarriage. Suspecting the mother may have lied, the father contacted the hospital, but was denied information due to confidentiality laws. So the father contacted Social Services to take a DNA test regarding the abandoned child. The results were negative. But Social Services contacted the mother, who stuck by her party/rape story and said that the child had been adopted. Social Services contacted the adoption agency and arranged for a paternity test for the father. The results were positive and the father moved to legitimate the child.
The trial court found, among other things, that the father had continued to prepare to parent the minor child by maintaining consistent contact by phone and in person with the mother regarding the progress of the pregnancy, leaving school to return home to care for the child, gaining and maintaining employment, attending a prenatal appointment, caring for the mother's other two children so that she could attend other prenatal appointments, engaging in conversations regarding the naming of the child, and purchasing a larger car to transport the child. The father's consent was therefore needed.
The Appellate Court reversed, holding that the trial court had not found facts showing that, after suspecting that the mother had lied, and before the adoption petition was filed, the father had legitimated, supported, or consistently cared for the child.
For years I have heard people say that a father who does not stay in contact with the mother after having a relationship with her to determine the status of a pregnancy deserves no say in the adoption of his biological child. This case proves that this notion is simply an excuse to eliminate fathers according to mothers' wishes. Here, the father did everything he could do to inquire. The court still concluded that the father had not followed the statutes by legitimating, supporting, or consistently caring for the child after suspecting the mother had lied. Obviously, inquiring and staying in contact was not enough. The father still needed to predict the mother was lying and find the ultimate truth.
That is the very catch-22 I have been discussing for some time: Where one law requires the father claim paternity and support while another law lets the mother keep the father from gaining the information he needs to do that. One answer, which I have voiced in several interviews, is to establish a putative father registry that does not require paternity claiming, and to eliminate the abandonment question where the mother works against the father.
Instead, we have a replay of Baby Richard, where the mother told the father that the child had died and the father searched for the truth. The father in Baby Richard was given custody four years later after the court found that the father had done all he could reasonably do given the mother's actions. After that case, there was an outcry for enacting putative father registries, wherein fathers could make their interests known without having to claim paternity or overcome the mother's dishonesty. Like Illinois in Baby Richard, North Carolina did not have a putative father registry
This case simply proves that even where a father inquires, cares for, and stays in contact with the mother, he will still be judged on whether he learned the full truth regardless of what he did to inquire or what the mother did to mislead him.
Erik L. Smith is a certified paralegal in Columbus, Ohio and an independent legal researcher for family law and personal injury attorneys. He has appeared on NPR, CNN, and PBS regarding adoption law and has published several of his articles on the internet and in hard copy publications such as Ohio Lawyer, Air Force Law Review, Probate Law Journal of Ohio, Adoption Today, and Midwifery Today.