As a rule, adoption requires the consent of both parents, and one of the biggest parental rights is the right to consent or object to the adoption of a parent’s child. To gain parental rights, including the right to object to adoption, unmarried biological fathers must not only establish paternity, but also demonstrate a commitment to parenting. Proactively establishing paternity demonstrates that commitment.
A biological father wanting a say in adoption decisions should establish paternity as soon as possible because a failure to do so can prevent him from gaining any parental rights. Waiting too long suggests a lack of commitment to the child. Being proactive can mean establishing paternity before the birth of the child in certain cases, for example, when the mother indicates early on in pregnancy a desire to surrender the child for adoption.
Paternity determinations often take the form of civil lawsuits that use DNA testing to establish the identity of the child’s father.
Fathers who do not learn they are fathers until after the fact can find themselves out of luck about adoption decisions. In some jurisdictions, the clock starts when the child is born (or even during pregnancy), not when the father learns about the child. Courts have held that fathers unaware of their children may not later object to the children’s adoption, particularly when the father’s ignorance is his doing. The facts of each case will differ, but to give himself the best chance of guaranteed input in adoption decisions, an unmarried father should not wait to learn about potential children. He should proactively seek out knowledge of any children he may have fathered and take all steps possible to establish a parental role.
Beyond acknowledging paternity, unmarried fathers must meet a larger requirement – demonstrated commitment to parenting in order to gain constitutionally protected paternal rights. A demonstrated commitment means providing for the child’s material and emotional needs, and attempting to form the fullest possible parental relationship with the child as well as helping pay pregnancy expenses, birth expenses and child support expenses after delivery.
Some courts consider the father’s fitness to parent. Fathers who do not provide support during pregnancy and beyond, who cannot show the ability to provide support, or who have drug or alcohol problems can be denied the right to object to adoption.
The degree to which an unmarried father has the opportunity to play a parental role in the child’s life often varies. Forming a parental relationship, making himself available, and seeking legal recognition for parental rights as soon as possible establishes a father in the best position to maintain a say in adoption.
Depending on state law, fathers who do not consent to the adoption of their child should file an objection to the adoption in the appropriate court, or in some cases with the state health and human services department. Often, an objection to adoption must include an indication of intent to petition for custody of the child in a short period of time, 30 days, for example.