March 5th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
An Arkansas Appellate court has overturned the adoption of an infant at the request of the child’s father. It’s another case of a mother who’s bound and determined to place a child for adoption and, if that means thwarting the father’s every effort to contact her, support her and establish a relationship with his child, then so be it.
Over the years, we’ve seen many of these cases. Lately they mostly seem to end up in Utah where asserting fathers’ rights in adoption cases is all but impossible.
But in the past, state after state has found it expedient to put obstacles in the paths of fathers who want nothing more than to care for and raise their children.
That’s usually accomplished by the infamous putative father registry that requires every unmarried man who has sex with a woman to file a form with the state. If he fails to do so and a child is born of the liaison, he has no right to contest the child’s adoption. Indeed, he has no right to even be informed of it.
In non-registry states, the method of choice for keeping fit single fathers out of the adoption loop is the requirement that he establish a personal, custodial or financial relationship with the child prior to adoption. Those laws usually are sufficient to place the exercise of the father’s parental rights squarely in the mother’s hands. After all, if she wants to give the child up for adoption at birth, how is Dad supposed to establish a relationship with a child who’s always been in utero?
The answer is that it’s pretty hard and in fact impossible if the mother wants to make it that way. Does he try to give her money for medical care? She can refuse it. Does he want to care for her and help support her during pregnancy? She can avoid him. Again, we see case after case of mothers doing just that.
Here’s the latest (Leagle, 3/1/12). In it, the Dad, J.E.M. had a relationship with the mom, S.M.B. They lived in Cape Girardeau, Missouri and, when she became pregnant in January of 2010, continued to see each other frequently. J.E.M. wanted to marry and raise their child as a family, but S.M.B. demurred saying she wanted the child adopted. Still, they saw a lot of each other and talked about the pregnancy often until May when S.M.B. moved to Texas without telling J.E.M. where she was going.
Housing was provided by the adoption agency she’d contacted and S.M.B. and J.E.M. continued to communicate via email and text messaging. But Dad still didn’t know where Mom was located and, when he asked her, she refused to tell him.
To secure his parental rights, J.E.M. filed with the putative father registries of Missouri, Illinois and Texas. He also filed suit in Texas to assert paternity. But S.M.B. managed to avoid service of the citation and eventually moved on to Arkansas hoping to keep one step ahead of the father of her child.
But J.E.M. wasn’t to be denied. He figured out where she was, filed the appropriate documents with the putative father registry there and intervened successfully in the adoption proceeding.
Baby Boy B. was born on September 4, 2010, in Washington County, Arkansas, and was placed with appellees in Pulaski County, Arkansas, on that same day. Appellant was not informed of the birth, and on September 8, 2010, filed a complaint for paternity and custody of an unborn child in the circuit court of Washington County, Arkansas.
A petition for temporary guardianship of Baby Boy B. was filed on September 8, 2010, in Faulkner County, Arkansas, stating that the putative father had never been married to the biological mother, that he had provided no support, and that his consent was not required pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-9-206. The circuit court found that the matters stated in the petition were true and entered an order on September 9, 2010, appointing Grace Adoptions as temporary guardian. Appellees filed a petition for adoption on September 13, 2010, and appellant filed a complaint in intervention on or about October 19, 2010…
On November 16, 2010, a hearing was held to determine whether appellant’s consent was required pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-9-206. At the conclusion of the hearing, the circuit court determined that appellant’s consent was not required. A decree granting the adoption of Baby Boy B. to appellees was entered on January 5, 2011.
In one of the only cases to so rule, the Arkansas appellate court reversed the trial court. Now J.E.M. will be able to demonstrate his fitness as a parent and get custody of his child.
That happened for the sole reason that J.E.M. had done everything he reasonably could to establish his parental rights. The court emphasized that S.M.B.’s dogged efforts to thwart him had to be considered when deciding what the father could and could not have done. If you think that’s nothing but the obvious, think again. For years, court after court has completely ignored the fact that Mom made Dad’s involvement with his child impossible. Some way, somehow he was supposed to overcome the barriers she placed in his way. He was required to intuit that she had become pregnant by him, know where she was, force money on her that she refused, provide medical care to a woman who was getting it for herself. How he was supposed to do those things was never explained.
So it’s a breath of fresh air to read the Arkansas court’s commonsensical approach to the matter. Dad doesn’t have to be Superman, he just needs to make reasonable efforts under the circumstances.
That’s good news for J.E.M. and his little son. Now Dad gets a chance to prove his fitness as a parent and, if he does, he and his son will be a family, hopefully supported by the child support of S.M.B.
It’s also good news for some little tyke somewhere else in the world. That’s because the couple who tried to adopt J.E.M.’s son are now free to adopt another child, one who has no father who wants him and who needs the type of loving parents I’m certain they are.
And that of course is the Achilles heel of the argument that we need to streamline adoptions by cutting fathers out of the loop. Letting fit fathers raise their children means good adoptive parents can have children who need to be adopted rather than adopting a child who doesn’t.
The Arkansas appellate court just made life a little easier for everyone in the adoption world. It also brought a bit of sanity to fathers’ rights and their children who depend on them.