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Parental Rights: Unmarried Fathers and Adoption

Generally speaking, adoption requires the consent of both birth parents, provided they meet certain requirements. To gain parental rights, including the right to object to adoption, biological fathers that are not married to the mother must establish paternity and demonstrate a commitment to parenting the child.

The following provides an overview of the parental rights associated with unmarried fathers and adoption.

Acknowledging Paternity

Proactively establishing paternity is an important step in an unmarried father's demonstration of commitment to raising the child. Paternity determinations are sometimes voluntary, but can take the form of civil lawsuits which utilize DNA testing to establish the identity of the child's father.

A biological father wanting to have a say in adoption decisions should establish paternity as soon as possible. Failure to establish paternity can prevent or delay a single father from gaining parental rights. Waiting too long to do so could be construed as a lack of commitment to parenting the child. In some cases, it's wise to establish paternity even before the child's birth. An example of such a situation is when the mother indicates a desire to put the child up for adoption early in the pregnancy.

Keep in mind, however, that paternity laws differ by state.

Timing and Unaware Fathers

Fathers who don't know of their children until after they are born can find themselves in difficult situations. In some states, the clock on when a father should acknowledge paternity and start providing for the child begins when the child is born. It can even begin before the birth. In many of these states and in others, that clock does not actually start when the father learns about the child. Courts have held that fathers unaware of their child may not later object to the child's adoption, particularly when the father's lack of knowledge occurred due to personal fault.

The facts of each case will differ. However, to secure the best chance of guaranteed input in adoption decisions, an unmarried father should not wait to learn about potential children. In cases where concerns of paternity may be in play, a father should consider contacting any partners with whom there is concern of having conceived a child. Knowing well in advance decreases the likelihood of an urgent need to establish paternity before it may be too late.

Unmarried Fathers and Adoption: Commitment to Parenting

Beyond acknowledging paternity, unwed fathers must satisfy many requirements in demonstrating commitment to parenting. They must do so in order to gain constitutionally protected paternal rights. This means providing for the child's material and emotional needs. It also means attempting to form the fullest possible parental relationship with the child.

Establishing a committed parental role typically includes helping pay pregnancy expenses, birth expenses and child support expenses after delivery. Some courts consider the fitness of the father to parent when determining commitment to parenting. Fathers who don't provide support during pregnancy and beyond, who can't show the ability to provide support, or who have demonstrated drug or alcohol problems can be denied the right to object to adoption.

The degree to which an unmarried father has the opportunity to play a parental role in the child's life often varies. However, doing as much as possible to form a parental relationship helps a father in maintaining a say in adoption and other parental decisions. It's important to seek legal recognition immediately.

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 their state's 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. In many jurisdictions, this period is 30 days, for example.

What Are Your Rights as an Unmarried Father? A Lawyer Can Help

If you are struggling with concerns about establishing paternity and maintaining your parental rights, it's wise to contact a lawyer. If you have any questions about being an unmarried father and adoption, consider calling a local family law attorney.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Contact a qualified family law attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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