A Look at the Laws: Termination of Parental Rights for Fathers and Mothers – Who Does It Protect?

When we talk about domestic infant adoption, who do the laws, which vary by state, really protect? Do they protect the biological or expectant mother? What about the alleged or assumed father? The prospective adoptive parents? How about the child in question? There are fifty states, plus the District of Columbia, within the United States. Each state has their own laws and rules that are governed under more broad federal laws. While most states follow the same general guidelines, some states are uniquely different. Let’s take a quick look at the general practices from most states.

Generally speaking, the most accepted standard of practice, and laws, state that a mother cannot sign a consent to adoption or termination of parental rights unless 72 hours (3 days) has passed from the time of the baby’s birth. Most states allow for no revocation period but do allow for the consent to be challenged if duress or coercion can be proven. Some states don’t even allow for the revocation of consent if duress or coercion can be proven, but most do. In regards to the alleged or assumed father, most states will only consider his rights if he has jumped through a series of legal hoops to acknowledge he wishes to retain his parental rights. Putative father registries are the most common hoops to jump through but many states also require that he show proof he had been financially supporting an expectant mother during her pregnancy in order for his rights to not be terminated against his will. Note that no state anywhere in the country requires a mother to show she has supported herself during her pregnancy in order to safeguard her parental rights (as it should be).

The only time a child would be considered the legal father, in regards to an adoption, would be if the mother and father were married at the time of the birth or if the father signed a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity, and had it notarized (which can only be done after the birth of a child and the mother must consent to this). Even if the husband of the mother is not the biological father of the baby, because they are married he becomes the legal father, no matter what.

These are the general guidelines and rules but, as you will see, not all states are the same and every one of them has their own spice mixed into the batter that will eventually bake the cake called “adoption.”

I’d first like to take a look at some of the more “adoptive parent friendly” states that are out there. This is putting it nicely, though. Let’s start with Utah, shall we?

Adoption Laws in Utah

In Utah, a putative father is defined as a man who had a sexual relationship, with a woman, which will/has resulted in the birth of a child. A father need not sign consent to terminate his parental rights in Utah as they will be terminated for him if he does not jump through the following hoops:

– Petition the courts in Utah, no matter what state he may live in.

– Sign an affidavit stating he is willing, able and capable of providing for and taking care of a child. The affidavit must also include a plan on how he is going to go about caring for the child as well as agreeing to pay child support and all incurred expenses surrounding the pregnancy and birth of the child.

– This “Notice of Commencement of Paternity” must be filed PRIOR to a mother signing consent to terminate her parental rights.

And how long after birth is a mother required to wait before she can voluntarily terminate her parental rights? 24 hours. Yes. One day. Once she signs, any petition a father may file is considered INVALID. His rights are terminated with the stroke of her pen unless he is extremely proactive and resourceful, which is sometimes impossible to do.

Let’s look at what I call the “Utah Strategy.” The Utah Strategy involves an agency, who has learned that an expectant mother is having doubts that the father of her baby will consent to the adoption, moving that mother, unbeknownst to the expectant father, into the state of Utah to live for the duration and remainder of her pregnancy. She is counseled not to tell him she is there. Why? Because this will assure his parental rights will be terminated, per the law above. The Utah law states that any baby born within Utah borders automatically makes that baby’s biological parents subject to Utah laws in regards to adoption. If you are a father and the pregnant mother of your child disappears to Utah, without telling you, how in the world are you to ascertain your parental rights according to Utah law? You don’t. And that’s why so many father’s are losing this battle with Utah. Utah is the most unfriendly state in regards to the rights of biological parents. It doesn’t stop with fathers however. Let’s take a look at mothers.

As we went over before, a mother can sign her rights to her child away, permanently and irrevocably (since Utah has no revocation period) 24 hours after giving birth. 24 hours isn’t even enough time to recover from a hard night out on the town let alone bringing another human life into the world, especially if that mother ended up having a c-section, which is pretty major surgery. Before a mother would even be able to be safely discharged from a hospital, she is able to sign her rights away. Even worse, if extreme duress was placed on the mother or even blatant coercion from an adoption agency (threats or promises of gifts) her consent to terminate her rights is IRREVOCABLE. Only two states do not allow for consent to be revoked in at least some circumstances. They are Utah and Massachusetts.

Alabama Adoption Laws

Like Utah, Alabama requires alleged or assumed father’s to sign up with the putative father registry. Unlike Utah, however, Alabama allows a putative father to register and safeguard his rights up to 30 days after the birth of the child. Now here’s where it gets a little tricky. If the expectant mother allows for it, and agrees to sign her rights away before birth (oh yes, in Alabama a mother can terminate her rights before the baby is even born) then the putative father can “legitimize” the child. This means he will become the child’s legal father, before birth, regardless of the marital status between him and the mother. By doing this a father has fewer hurdles to jump through, in court, later on. However, most women who have made the “choice” to give their babies up usually won’t be on board with facilitating a father in fighting this. In other words, registering with the putative father registry, in Alabama, will only make you aware of court proceedings in regards that child’s adoption. It does not make you the father, legally, and gives you no rights whatsoever. It only gives you the right to fight for the rights you should have automatically had.

As I was saying, an expectant mother, in Alabama, can voluntarily terminate her parental rights to her child before the child is born as long as it is done before a probate judge. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry when I learned a probate judge (not a regular judge which is required after the baby is born if a mother wishes to terminate her rights) needed to be present for TPR. Probate. Think about that for a while. Back to what I was saying…

An expectant mother, in Alabama, can terminate her parental rights while she’s still pregnant. As in before a person even legally exists. Yes, people exist before they are born, technically, but legally there is no person. No birth certificate. They haven’t even been born. Now, to Alabama’s credit, a mother, for any reason, can revoke her consent up to five days after the baby is born.  But I do wonder how many agencies tell her this and I also wonder how successful any woman may be in actually achieving this. If the mother calls the social worker on day four and says, “I’ve changed my mind, I want my baby back!” and the social worker decides to ignore her for a couple of days does this count? I actually have a birthmom friend that this happened to. Her rights were terminated anyway.

Adoption Laws in Wisconsin

Oh the great state of Wisconsin. Even though pretty much all laws governing termination of parental rights for a domestic infant adoption SUCK, Wisconsin is probably the most “natural parent friendly” state in the Union. Of every state, it has the longest waiting period and strictest requirements in order for a voluntary termination to take place. A court hearing is needed for termination to even be considered. A court cannot even be petitioned to get the hearing until after a child is born (no legal person exists = no hearing can be filed for – take note Alabama). This hearing can take anywhere from a week to thirty days to get. It is usually more like 2-3 weeks. During this time a parent can bring their child home with them or choose for the state to place the baby in foster care while still retaining all legal rights to that child. The hearing will consist of a judge asking a series of questions and then determining if he/she will allow for the termination to be signed. If the judge feels that any form of duress or coercion is present, he will not allow for it to be signed. There is no revocation period in Wisconsin but this is probably because of how long it takes to actually terminate parental rights.

Like Alabama, and most states, Wisconsin has a putative father registry. Unlike Alabama, however, rights will be terminated 14 days after the birth of the baby or 21 days after he has been notified, by an agency or attorney, that they intend to terminate his rights if he does not respond. Again, same old song and dance when we are talking about fathers and their rights when it comes to adoption.

What if?

There are so many “what ifs” that can be asked in every law about terminating parental rights. What if the mother is married but he isn’t the biological father? What if she knows the biological father would never consent to an adoption so she never tells him she is pregnant and for every legal purpose uses her husband?  What if an expectant mother disappears so that the father cannot find her and his rights are terminated? What if he finds out later but only after it’s too late, which is what would be the case in Utah. Shouldn’t a father’s rights to his child always be intact regardless of what some state law says? Why is there no recourse for him?

What if a mother has been convinced that adoption is definitely what she wants to do? Promises were made, a rainbow picture was painted. With the euphoria of birth comes all these emotions. Love for the prospective adoptive parents and a sense of loyalty to fulfill their dreams. What if these raging hormones within her body are telling her one thing but, later, her heart will say another? It certainly takes more than 72 hours for a woman’s hormones to balance out after birth. What if a mother is on painkillers when she is signing consent? In Utah it wouldn’t matter. NOT IRREVOCABLE FOR ANY REASON.

Who do adoption laws benefit?

I asked a question at the beginning of this article. Who are these laws benefiting? If this was truly about doing what is “best” for a child then why is there such a rush to terminate the rights of parents. Why does it have to be done before birth or within hours after? It should be quite obvious to anyone reading this that today’s adoption laws, are tailored to help adoptive parents. Greatly. They are the beneficiaries of these laws. If it is so important to attain a consent to adoption from biological parents within hours after birth then why does adoption work in Wisconsin without this practice?

Not only do these laws not help fathers, they actually hurt them. The states that allow for almost zilch in the way of fathers’ rights are carving a path for agencies and attorneys to convince vulnerable and naive pregnant women to victimize the father’s of their children. Fathers and prospective adoptees benefit the LEAST from these laws. If adoption is about finding a home for children who need them then why are we passing laws to make sure that we create orphans that “need” homes by removing their original families from the picture as quickly as possible and sometimes without choice. Families who would otherwise be safe and loving. Because there is a DEMAND for newborn babies. And to meet this demand laws had to be enacted. How did the laws get enacted? Follow the money. It is these large, powerful and RICH groups and organizations that have lobbied our government for years. And how many adoptive parents do you think are in positions of power to continue to facilitate laws like this? Justice John Roberts, the deciding vote in the Veronica Brown case, is an adoptive father. Don’t you think his status as such was a huge conflict of interest in that case? Take that one example and multiply it by thousands.

What can you do?

You could read this, forget about it, go on with your life. Or you can start writing your congressmen, senators, governors, or even The President of the United States. Tell them what you think about all these laws that protect adoptive parents but do essentially nothing to protect anyone else. Get involved, donate money. At the end of this blog post I will list a few very good organizations. If you’re an expectant mother, don’t sign anything until at least 30 days has transpired. Be up front about it. Give yourself time to let your body heal. If there is a father in the picture, keep him in the picture. How would you like it if someone took your child away against your will? Whatever you do to others DOES come back to you two-fold. If you’re an expectant father – REGISTER WITH THE PUTATIVE FATHER REGISTRY. I cannot tell you how important this is. Even if you think your relationship is great with the mother. Even if you think she would never give your baby up for adoption – DO IT. I have heard of cases where the mother never even mentioned adoption but went ahead and did it anyway. The father had no idea.

We’ve come to a point in this country where we are no longer tolerating the current oppressive practices, in regards to adoption, that have been used for so many years. The great adoption experiment is failing. The subjects of that experiment are now grown ups and they are speaking out. With the beginning of these adoptees finding their voices a new era was invented. The great experiment of open adoption. And now we are speaking out. It’s all just a big experiment with people’s lives. Ethics should be THE most important thing in adoption. How can we expect agencies, attorneys and prospective adoptive parents to behave ethically if our laws don’t even reflect this sentiment?

Organizations to Donate To or Become Involved With 

American Adoption Congress

Concerned United Birthparents

Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform (PEAR)

The Alma Society

Musings of the Lame and Claudia’s domestic infant adoption reform bill

Saving Our Sisters – S.O.S.

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