New VA Registry Violates Fathers’ Right to Raise Their Own Children

By Michael McCormick and Glenn Sacks

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.

Such violations of fathers’ rights are common. For example, in the widely–reported Huddleston adoption case, Mark Huddleston’s baby boy was adopted out when he was three days old, but Huddleston didn’t know the baby existed until two months after his birth. As a New Mexico court later found, the private adoption agency did not notify Huddleston of the pending adoption, thus denying him the chance to raise his son.

In an adoption case, the burden of identifying the father should be on the mother. It is the mother, not the father, who is certain to be aware of the child’s birth, and it is the mother who knows (or should know) the baby’s parentage. However, when states have tried to craft measures requiring a mother who seeks to put her baby up for adoption to find and notify the baby’s father, there has been opposition from the National Organization for Women and other women’s groups.

Defenders of the Registry justify disregarding fathers with numerous unfair assumptions about men and their intentions. For example, Kerry Dougherty, a prominent Virginia newspaper columnist, asserts:

“I think we’re being too kind to these men. Guys who don’t stick around long enough to find out whether they’ve caused a pregnancy have terminated their paternal rights. If they know a baby’s on the way and then disappear, they aren’t fathers…the General Assembly ought to look for ways to strip these irresponsible Romeos of their rights, not invite them to record their random copulations.”

One wonders if Dougherty knows anyone who has dated within the last 40 years. It is absurd to think that in modern relationships, when there’s an out–of–wedlock birth it must be because the father ran off. In reality, most unwed biological fathers do care about their children, but often do not know of their existence or are unsure that the children really are biologically theirs. There have been countless adoption cases where these fathers have struggled desperately for the right to raise their own children. One also wonders why a woman who wants to avoid the responsibility of raising a child (and of paying child support) is viewed sympathetically, while a man in exactly the same position is a villain.

There are numerous other problems with the Registry. A registrant must provide his social security number, driver’s license number, home address, and employer, as well as details about the sexual affair and his sexual partner. This sensitive, personal information will be available to the baby’s mother, the lawyers involved in the adoption, court employees, and anyone able to hack in to the computer system.

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 FPLS 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.