‘Beginning of the End’ for French Maternal Anonymity Law

As I’ve said a lot lately, in many adoption cases, the key to cutting the dad out of the process is simply to deny him information.  If he doesn’t even know about the pregnancy, that’s very effective in terminating his rights.  If he doesn’t know when or where the baby is born, that too can be successful.  The mother’s claim that she doesn’t know the father helps too. The tour de force in denying fathers’ rights in adoption cases came with the advent of Putative Father Registries. 
They deny unmarried fathers the right to notice of the adoption of their children.  In states with PFRs, unmarried fathers have to sign up with the registry and claim their children whether or not they know of their existence.  If they don’t, they don’t get notice if the child is placed for adoption. As the head of the Family Law Section of the State Bar of Texas once told me “we should put a stack of forms in every men’s room in the state.”  His tongue-in-cheek point was that, the law tells every single man that, when has intercourse, he must file a form claiming any child who results whether or not one actually does. Just to make certain those PFRs do their job, states take the extra precaution of keeping them as secret as possible.  The State of Texas, for example, budgets no money to publicize either the fact or the function of its registry.  And, although the statute plainly states that forms for claiming paternity shall be maintained in various places such as hospitals, courts, etc., my diligent journalistic efforts to locate same were stymied.  The places the forms were supposed to be had none and personnel were utterly perplexed at what I was even talking about.  They’d never heard of the forms or the law. Still, as bad as it is for dads in the United States who want to care for the children they father, it turns out it’s worse in France, as this article shows (France24, 1/27/11).  This piece gives a bit of background. It seems that, in 1941, the pro-Nazi Vichy government passed a law called “Accouchement sous X.”  It’s been in effect ever since.  The law permits any pregnant woman, on entering the hospital to give birth, to remain entirely anonymous on all records, her identity kept secret from anyone for all times.  Some 400,000 women have availed themselves of the law’s powers since its passage. Now, exactly why the law was passed originally seems to be unknown.  But its use to facilitate denial of fathers’ rights in adoption cases seems all to obvious.  Neither article notices the fact, but, like putative father registries and many other laws and practices that deny fathers their fundamental right to associate with and care for their children, France’s Accouchement sous X does the job nicely. Just imagine a French version of Virginian John Wyatt frantically trying to find where his girlfriend had secreted herself to give birth to their daughter.  Unlike Wyatt, he’ll likely fail because his girlfriend has withdrawn behind the veil of absolute anonymity provided by the Vichy-era law. But now it seems that the law may not be long for the world. 

The Court of Appeals of Angers ruled Thursday that custody of an infant born in June 2009 under the anonymous childbirth law in France be granted to its maternal grandparents against the mother”s wishes, overturning the provisions stipulated by the controversial legislation.

“This is truly the beginning of the end for the anonymous childbirth law,’ said Jacques Monier, the mother”s attorney.

“It”s a historic ruling by the court. France is allowing national legislation to be overruled by international agreements such as the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, which France subscribes to,’ Brigitte Bareges, a member of parliament for the ruling UMP party, told AFP.

In short, the convention on the Rights of the Child requires that children be given certain rights in all cases, including the right to know their parents.  Maternal anonymity is trumped by that convention. More to the point, the maternal grandparents got custody of the child over the wishes of the mother.  And what grandparents can do, maybe fathers can as well. So let’s hope the mother’s attorney is right.  Let’s hope the court’s ruling is the beginning of the end of maternal anonymity in France.  Fathers have enough trouble getting and keeping access to their children as it is.

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