Adoption in South Carolina: An Ongoing Scandal

September 26, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

I complain a lot about the news media and how they deal with pretty much everything related to child custody, adoption, child support, paternity fraud and the unequal power of men and women in all those areas. I do that because the news media are generally incurious and ill-informed about those topics and many more. I promise you, I will not complain about this article that is one of the best and most comprehensive I’ve read (Charlston Post and Courier, 9/21/13). The reporter, Andrew Knapp, knows his stuff and presents it in a balanced way that nevertheless gives a good thrashing to the villains of the piece. A+, Mr. Knapp, A+.

Into the bargain, the comments are among the most intelligent and knowledgeable I’ve ever read. Don’t stop reading at the end of Knapp’s long and fine piece; the comments add a lot.

Stemming from the much publicized case of Baby Veronica, the subject is adoption and its seamy underworld in which adoption agencies in essence pay birth mothers to keep fathers in the dark and out of the adoption loop.

Much of what I’ve written about adoption comes from the State of Utah that I maintain is second to none in its frank desire to cut every father out of the life of every child that’s placed for adoption. In Utah, it’s laughably easy to deprive an unmarried father of the right to stop the adoption of his child and gain custody of it. As countless cases show, a few magic words is all it takes to force adoption on a child who doesn’t need it. That disgraceful process is applauded by everyone in the adoption industry for the simple reason that it pays so well.

Well, it seems South Carolina isn’t far behind. There we see adoption agencies strong-arming birth mothers into giving up their children and oiling the gears of the process by refusing to tell the father what’s going on. How do they do that? Simple. Money lubricates the whole system.

As in so many states, South Carolina has a Putative Father Registry. That means if an unmarried father wants to stop the adoption of his child, he has to file the proper forms with the state. If he does so, that entitles him to be informed that the child is being adopted and to attempt to stop it and gain custody. But, as one of the commenters makes clear, in South Carolina as in most other registry states, the Putative Father Registry is a closely guarded secret. Here’s commenter Holly Cox:

The steps a father must take to even have a *chance* at preserving his rights are long, hidden, difficult and subjective. Few people of either gender even know about Putative Father Registries. Even those that do it can be hard to find them. They are not listed anywhere on the websites of the government branches in which they’re hidden. It often takes hiring and paying a lawyer to find the registry and put you on it, such as Rob Manzanares experienced. Even putting yourself on it does not guarantee your rights will be preserved, as Cody O’Dea experienced.

Sound familiar? Back in 2000, I did my own informal survey of men in Houston about their knowledge of the Texas Paternity Registry. I shoved a card at each of 100 men that had a single question on it, “Have you ever heard of the Texas Paternity Registry? Yes. No. Circle one.” All 100 circled “No.” And these were men who were almost certainly more knowledgeable than the average. That’s because I confined myself to men at the University of Houston and men exiting office buildings downtown.

According to one Ohio man who recorded his adventures in attempting to locate that state’s Putative Father Registry, it too was essentially unknown even to the people in the state agency under whose authority the registry operated.

So the SC registry is likewise a secret from all but a few attorneys, adoption agency officials and the like.

An unmarried man can also demonstrate his commitment to raising his child in other ways, but they all involve the mother and require her cooperation. If she doesn’t give it, he’s in a world of hurt. As in so many other states, South Carolina requires the father to do things like attempt to marry the mother, provide money for her welfare and, once it’s born, the child’s.

But the larger issue, according to skeptics, is the allegation that some birth mothers, agencies and attorneys conceal adoptions and prevent birth fathers from asserting parental rights…

“There is a misconception that a birth father must sign a legal document in order for an adoption to be accomplished,” [attorney Raymond] Godwin said. “Just because the birth father is a sperm donor and has that biological link does not under the law establish his parental rights.”…

One reviewer from California alleged that she paid $4,000 to the group Beauvais-Godwin founded 15 years ago, Carolina Hope Christian Adoption Agency, to facilitate her adoption of a South Carolina child. Nightlight absorbed Carolina Hope in 2009.

“Our birth mom felt so bullied by them that eventually she refused to take their calls,” the woman wrote on “We paid for that, financially and emotionally.”…

But state laws have high standards for an unwed man to achieve fatherhood.

The couple could marry, the man could live with the woman for six months before birth, or he could handle prenatal expenses.

So, if the mother doesn’t want to marry or live with the man, the only hope he has is to give her money, if he’s got it. But she can always refuse, which is where the agencies come in. Adoption is not a cheap affair and adoptive parents pay the freight.

The agency collects fees for its services from the adoptive parents, who also are permitted by law to pay the mothers’ expenses….

Those costs include down payments on housing or a vehicle, rental fees, food and utility bills, Beauvais-Godwin said.

They usually pay doctor and hospital bills too.

So, on one hand you have an unmarried father who’s required to help support the mother and on the other you have a mother who’s (a) bent on placing the child for adoption, (b) receiving far more money from the adoptive parents than the father can likely afford and (c) under the thumb of a hectoring adoptive agency that doesn’t get paid if the adoption doesn’t go through. What do you think the mother is likely to do in that situation?

“Once these agencies and lawyers get the birth mother on the hook … they tell these birth moms not to answer any calls from the dads,” said Shannon Jones, the Charleston attorney who represents Simmons and Brown. “Of course, then they argue the dad is a deadbeat.

“It usually wins the day.”

This is what’s known in common parlance as “a racket.” It consists of pressuring mothers into cutting fathers out of the lives of their children. The law allows the mothers to do that by placing all power over the fathers’ parental rights in the mothers’ hands. Does she not want to marry or live with him? She need not. Does she prefer the adoptive parents’ money to his? That’s her choice.

Then again, even when a dad does manage to show his commitment to his child, sometimes courts find against him anyway.

In another case five years later, a teenage would-be father offered the teen he impregnated $100, bought her some clothes and fixed her car. But he didn’t go far enough in supporting the teen, the S.C. Supreme Court said, and couldn’t block an adoption.

So what is “far enough?” We’ll let you guess. The law doesn’t say, so impecunious dads are left to do what they can and wonder if some judge somewhere will give it the stamp of approval. That kid’s $100 wasn’t enough. Would $200 have been? $500? $1,000? He fixed her car, but what if he’d put a down payment on a newer model?

Who knows what’s enough to preserve a father’s rights to his child? What does it take for a single dad to convince the State of South Carolina that he should be entitled to care for his child? The state’s not telling, preferring to play Whack-a-Mole with single fathers.

And of course the attorneys and agencies are happy with all of it because they get paid handsomely. The last thing they want is a father showing up and canceling the adoption of his child. No one gets paid that way and the mother might even end up paying child support. We can’t have that, so the entire system is designed to make the adoption industry run like the well-oiled machine it is. And if the price is the wholesale denial of fathers’ rights, so be it. As Madeline Albright once said, “We think it was worth it.”

Lest we forget, all these handstands we’re doing to prevent fathers’ having custody of their children has another price — the denial of parents to children who have none. What all these adoption laws do is force adoption on children with fathers who are ready, willing and able to care for them. They don’t need to be adopted, but millions of other children worldwide do.

In this country alone, there are some 425,000 children in foster care whose parents have had their parental rights terminated. And of course there are millions more throughout the world. But there are only about 125,000 adoptions completed in this country each year. So for every child who’s forced into adoptive care over the objections (or due to the ignorance) of its father, there’s another child somewhere in this country or the world outside who would dearly love to have those same parents. Too bad, kid.

We say we’re doing all this for the children, but it’s not so. We’re doing it for the lawyers and adoption agencies. And we’re doing it to keep mothers in charge of fathers’ rights.

To University of South Carolina law professor Marcia Zug, laws governing the termination of a father’s rights, she said, make an adoption here “easier than in many states.” She also noted the need for a waiting period after a birth in which mothers can revoke their consent.

“I don’t like this back-door, don’t-tell-him-about-it approach,” Zug said. “And there’s just a whole bunch of those cases.”

As executive director of the Donaldson Adoption Institute, a New York-based nonprofit, Adam Pertman said laws should add more openness.

Shutting out people with a stake in an adoption only creates more problems that drag out adoption proceedings — something that Pertman said isn’t in a child’s best interests.

“It’s a system that deep-sixes the rights of birth moms and dads,” said Pertman, himself an adoptive parent. “We give lip service to the best interests of the child, then we do things that constantly prove that the adoptive couple are the only people we’re concerned about.”

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