Putative Father Registries, Part III

Columbus, OH–On January 9, I posted a piece entitled “A small – and lucky – victory” about an Ohio man, Jason Wilkins, who seems to be about to get custody of his daughter, Madalyn Grace.  Here’s some more about why I call him lucky.

Ohio is one of at least 24 states with a Putative Father Registry.  Under “normal” circumstances, Wilkins would never have been told that his daughter existed – and thus denied custody – because of the Ohio Putative Father Registry.  It was just luck that he was told by relatives of the child’s mother that he had a daughter. 

I”ve studied putative father registries for about ten years.  Begun by the State of New York in the 1970s, they are enacted to “streamline’ adoption proceedings, which is code for “they”re enacted to bypass fathers in the adoption process.’

Here”s how they work.  Generally speaking, husbands have parental rights to children born to their wives.  But single men have a much tougher time establishing parental rights.  In states with putative father registries, men who have sex with a woman who is not their wife must file a form with the state claiming paternity of the child, if there is one.  If they don”t and the woman chooses to place the child for adoption, the man is not entitled to be informed of the proceedings.  His rights are terminated by a court without notice to him or his consent.  Needless to say, that makes it a lot easier to complete adoption cases – just cut the father out of the loop.

If that”s not bad enough, states often do their best to keep their registries secret.  In Texas, where I live, no money is budgeted to publicize the registry with the not surprising result that few men know about it.  I took an informal poll of 100 men in Houston and not one of them had ever heard of the Texas Paternity Registry or its potential to deprive them of their rights. 

Also, the law specifically requires certain places like Justice of the Peace Courts, County and District Courts, hospitals and adoption agencies to keep forms available for men to file.  I checked on examples of each of those and only one, an adoption agency, even knew what I was talking about.  The result: less than 1% of Texas single fathers file a form with the registry each year. 

It turns out that Ohio and Texas are a lot alike in that regard as this funny and infuriating article makes clear.

This dogged determination to keep these registries secret is important when it comes to the Constitution”s guarantee of rights to due process of law.  In law school you learn that at a bare minimum, due process requires that, before a state can deprive a person of his rights, he must be afforded (a) notice of the charge against him and (b) a hearing, i.e. the opportunity to tell his side of the story.  These rights are afforded to everyone from a mass murderer to a double-parker.

Everyone, that is except single fathers.  Their rights are terminated in registry states without actual notice and without a hearing.  And that pretty much spells out the status single fathers have in this country – lower than Jack the Ripper.

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