Virginia’s Anti-Father Putative Father Registry, One Year After Enactment

Richmond, VA– Some of you may recall that a year ago I called attention to the absurdity and gender bias behind Virginia’s anti-father Putative Father Registry. I wrote:

Virginia”s controversial new Putative Father Registry law asks any man who has had heterosexual non-marital sex in Virginia to register with the State. Supporters say the law will help connect fathers with their children before the children are put up for adoption. Critics see it as another example of the erosion of citizens” privacy. Both sides miss the real point of the Registry–to remove a father’s right to prevent his child’s mother from giving their child up for adoption without his consent.

Incredibly, under the new law, putative fathers who fail to register waive their right to be notified that their parental rights are being terminated. They also forfeit the right to be notified of the adoption proceedings and to consent to the adoption. Rather than being required to make a legitimate effort to find and notify the father, the state can now simply check the Registry and, if the man has not registered, give his child away…

The law should instead require that an honest, exhaustive search for the father be conducted before an adoption can proceed. This search should include use of the Federal Parent Locator Service, which contains a vast array of information, including the National Directory of New Hires. The FALLS is used to enforce child support, find children involved in parental kidnappings, and to enforce child custody and visitation. State systems are tied into the FPLS, and they are often remarkably effective at finding parents.

Fathers have the right to raise their own children. Virginia”s Registry is a shameful attempt to circumvent that right.

I was pleased to see recently that Marc Fisher of the Washington Post sees the Registry the same way. Fisher also tells us how the Registry is going after its first year. In Virginia to Lovers: Let’s Get Cynical (9/2/08), he writes:

If you don’t let the state know ahead of any dispute over whose kid it is, or ahead of any effort by the mother or anyone else to put the baby up for adoption, Virginia will assume that you don’t exist. Whereas once the authorities might have made an effort to find the father before putting a child up for adoption, the existence of the Putative Father Registry means the state now washes its hands of that obligation. If you haven’t registered your sexual encounter in Richmond, you are outta luck.

As the Daily Press in Hampton Roads reported last week, in the registry’s first year of operation, a grand total of 64 men in Virginia availed themselves of this splendid opportunity to create an official record of their sexual activities.

Oh, I suppose it’s possible that a few more than 64 men had sex with women not their wives, and perhaps some of those relationships resulted in the birth of a child. Indeed, the Daily Press says that in the most recent year for which statistics are available, 33,681 nonmarital births occurred in Virginia.

Which would suggest that this law is not exactly entirely all about protecting the rights of men who might want to take care of children whose existence they may not even be aware of. No, it seems quite possible that the primary motivation here is to absolve the state or adoption authorities of the task of trying to find missing fathers…the state [shouldn’t] be able to use a legal trick to strip all putative fathers of their parental rights without making some effort to find and contact the fathers.  

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