Adoptions Create New Families
Adoptions are wonderful things. Families are created by adoptions. They are virtually the only “happy” case filed in Family Court. But like many Family Court cases, they can go wrong and when they do, it is particularly devastating. Other than the biological mother of the child changing her mind at the last minute, the worst thing that happens, in my opinion, is when the biological father shows up, after not being around for the nine months of gestation, or longer, and claims the child. I have vivid memories of the news footage of that five year old child that was wrenched from the arms of the only parents he had ever known and returned to his biological father several years ago. In that case, the father claimed he had not known about the child until after the adoption.
The new South Carolina Responsible Father registry is designed to prevent “surprises” for adoptive parents by requiring putative fathers to register their desire to know of any adoption of a child that they might have fathered with a particular woman. The purpose is to give unmarried biological fathers, who affirmatively assume responsibility for children they may have fathered, notice of any proceedings regarding their parental rights.
The Responsible Father Registry can be found at: https://ssl.sc.gov/DSSFatherRegistry/FatherReg/RegIndex.aspx. Like everything in life, there are rules. In order to file, the man must be at least eighteen years old and not married to the biological mother of the child of whom he claims to be the natural father. Only the father himself can register. So, grandparents or other interested relatives cannot sign their sons up for this. The father must register his claim of paternity either before or after the birth of the child, but before the date of a petition for termination of parental rights has been filed and before and adoption petition has been filed. Any claims filed after the dates of the petitions are void. Addresses must be kept up to date.
To make the process idiot proof, DSS has developed form 1549, which is found on the website. The claim must include all of the information on the form marked with an asterisk. The claim must be signed by the putative father and mailed to DSS. If there is a multiple birth, a separate form must be filed for each child. I suppose that a particularly promiscuous man might have to spend a lot of time filling out these forms. There is no fee to file the claim for paternity. There is a $50 fee to search the registry and get a certificate. This is a cost borne by the adoptive parents.
It is the grand hope of everyone involved in adoption work that this will eliminate the legal risk associated with John Doe adoptions. I suppose there is room for abuse, as there is with any thing of this sort. I suppose a man might file a claim when he knows he is not the father of the child, but other than spite, I cannot imagine why he would do so. There are penalties for filing false claims. A person who knowingly, maliciously or in bad faith files a false claim of paternity with the registry, upon conviction, must be fined not more than $500 or imprisoned for not more than 30 days or both. I have tried to imagine how one would prove this crime. I suppose if the putative father had had a vasectomy that might qualify. But I suspect we will see few, if any, prosecutions of this crime.
Adoptions require a lot of paperwork. All of them begin with a Summons and Complaint for termination of the biological parents’ rights and adoption. Assuming that it is a “stranger” adoption and not a step-parent or other relative who is adopting the child, a home study must be done. An accounting must be filed. A Guardian ad Litem is appointed in all adoptions. There are Consent Relinquishments done by biological parents who consent. Now there is the search of the Responsible Father Registry. Hopefully this registry will eliminate some of the uncertainty and pain that adoptive families have endured for many years.
There is never any question about who a baby’s mother is. The problems associated with the mother are with her changing her mind at the last minute following the child’s birth. In these cases, there is no recourse for the adoptive parents who may have spent thousands of dollars on prenatal care, food, clothing and shelter for the biological mother. It is a chance they take willingly because they want a child.
Written for “Legal Pad” in the Anderson Observer.