One of the concerns that plague adoptive parents is the fear that a biological father who was not notified of adoption proceedings will appear and disrupt their new family. Conversely, a man who fathers a child out of wedlock is vulnerable to having his parental rights terminated without notice if he has not been legally declared to be his child’s father. South Carolina’s legislature has attempted to resolve both these issues with its Responsible Father Registry.
In 2010, the legislature created the Responsible Father Registry to further its compelling interest in providing stable and permanent homes for adoptive children. When a man who has fathered a child with a woman to whom he is not married registers, he obtains the right to be notified of adoption proceedings involving his child, and of any attempts to terminate his parental rights. The Department of Social Services’ website explains the process and results of registering.
The registry is open to any man who thinks he may have fathered a child out of wedlock (also known as a “putative father”). There is no cost to register, and the registry cannot be used to enforce child support payments. A putative father may register before or after the child is born, but for the registration to be effective it must be done before the child is adopted or the father’s rights are terminated. When registering, the following information must be included:
- the putative father’s name, address, and birthdate;
- the mother’s name, and her address and birthdate if known;
- the child’s name, place and date of birth, if known;
- the date, county and state of conception, if known; and
- the registration date.
A man who has made a claim of paternity by registering must be given notice of any proceeding to terminate his parental rights, including any adoption proceeding. Attorneys will check the registry before filing adoption or termination proceedings. A father can revoke his paternity claim at any time, and the fact that he has made a claim cannot be used to actually establish legal paternity. Registering simply secures the biological father’s right to be notified of legal proceedings.
Consequences of failing to register are harsh. Under the law, if a putative father fails to register, that failure is deemed a waiver of his right to be notified of adoption or termination proceedings. This is true even if the mother never notifies the father of her pregnancy, or if the father is in a relationship with the mother and has been supportive during the pregnancy. An unmarried biological father who has not registered is entitled to notice only under the following circumstances:
- he has been adjudicated the father by a South Carolina court;
- he is recorded as the child’s father on the birth certificate;
- he is living openly with the child and/or the child’s mother and is holding himself out to be the father when the proceedings are begun;
- the mother has identified him as the father in a written, sworn statement; or
- the family court finds him mentally incapable of giving consent to adoption or relinquishing his rights.
Contact a Greenville Family Lawyer
Legal issues involving children and custody are often sensitive and fraught with pitfalls. If you are a father hoping to protect your rights, or a couple seeking to adopt, a compassionate and skilled family lawyer like Robert Clark is a valuable ally. Contact him at Greenville Family Law for a consultation.