As a parent, one of the greatest legal rights you have in the U.S. is to consent to the adoption of your child. Both parents have this right, and in most cases, adoption mandates the consent of both the mother and the father of the child. However, there are certain requirements a birthfather must meet to legally earn this parental right – and the right to object to adoption. An unmarried biological father must establish paternity and demonstrate his commitment to being a parent to the child to have a legal say in adoption in California.
How a Birthfather Becomes a Legal Father
The California legal system does not automatically recognize an unmarried biological father of a child as the legal parent. Instead, the unmarried birthfather must proactively establish paternity. In CA, establishing paternity involves signing a voluntary Declaration of Paternity, asking a local child support agency to bring an action on the father’s behalf, or filing a case with the civil courts. A biological father can sign a Declaration of Paternity in the hospital room upon the birth of the child, after which both parents’ names will be on the birth certificate. He can also sign afterward at an appropriate public agency, in front of a notary.
A birthfather can establish paternity early in the pregnancy if the mother shows signs of wanting to give the child up for adoption. In these cases, a biological father can order a chemical paternity test. Non-invasive tests pose no risks to the baby or the expectant mother. Failure to establish paternity can result in an unmarried birthfather permanently giving up his parental rights, including those related to adoption.
Once a birthfather establishes paternity, it can be difficult or impossible to undo. Even if a DNA test shows the man isn’t the biological father, the established paternity will stay in effect. This gives the birthfather an equal right to the custody of the child, but he will not have a legal right to object to adoption until he also demonstrates a commitment to parenting. This involves being willing to provide for the child’s emotional and material needs and forming a parental relationship with the child.
During pregnancy, a commitment to parenting can include helping the mother pay for medical costs and attending birth classes with her. The father may also offer to pay child support expenses after delivery. Some courts will consider the father’s fitness as a parent when determining his commitment to the child. Those who have drug or alcohol problems will likely not earn the right to object to an adoption. If the biological father does not actively pursue establishing paternity and committing to raising a child, he will not have parental rights.
Unaware Biological Fathers
When a biological father does not know of a child until after an adoption, he loses his rights to object to or reverse the adoption. Courts around the country have held that unaware fathers do not have the right to later object to an adoption, especially when failure to know of the pregnancy is his own fault. In general, the courts hold that an unmarried father should actively seek knowledge about any children he may have biologically fathered and seek to establish a parental role if he wishes to have a say in adoption.
If an unmarried birthfather objects to an adoption, he must file his objection in the appropriate California court. Typically, this objection must include a petition for taking custody of the child after birth.
If you have any questions or concerns about the rights of the birthfather in your adoption plans, please contact an attorney. Each case is different and requires the specialized attention of an Orange County family lawyer.