Further Thoughts About Putative Father Registries

I want to think a bit more about the putative (or responsible?) father registries that were the subject of yesterday’s post.   You can go back for a quick look to get up to speed about what they are and there’s already a lot of discussion in the comments.

Perhaps what I really want to do is consider how registries might work rather than how they actually do work.   I draw this distinction because the way they currently operate may be problematic.  In particular, the idea of requiring registration and then making it hard to figure out where to register and failing to inform men that they need to register simply creates a trap.   That’s indefensible in my book.

So let’s instead think about a registry system that is widely publicized and simple to access.   (I really do think that if the government wanted to do public education around registries and was committed to making it easy to register, these things could be done.)

Then the core idea is that when after a man engaged in intercourse an unmarried woman, if he was interested in being a legal parent of any child that might result, he’d be obliged to take some sort of action to manifest his interest.   There are really a number of things he could do–but many of them require the cooperation of the woman.  So for example, the couple could get married.  Or he could participate in pre-natal training classes, perhaps.   Things like that.

But you might worry (let’s just assume you do worry) about instances where the woman doesn’t want to help the man secure rights–where she wants nothing more to do with him at all.   You could establish a registry as a way to allow him to demonstrate interest even in that case.    He’d just write in that he had sex with her on such and such a date and that he was interested in a child that might result from that.

It seems to me that the first thing to observe is that, assuming education and easy access, any man who really did want to have parental rights would register.   If he really cared about being a parent, it seems like a no brainer.  I cannot think of any reason why he wouldn’t register (if he knew he was supposed to.)

One of the main objections to the idea of the registries is that they are unfair to men–that they are used to move children away from men and into adoptive families.   And perhaps this is a fair claim given how things actually do work.   But if you fixed the education part and the access part (and I do know those are big ifs) then would you still have a problem?  Is there any unfairness in using the registry if it is properly publicized?

This reminds me to highlight a point made by Kisrita in the comments to the last post–the real use of the registries is instances where the child is placed for adoption.   The birth mother wants to place the child but with no clarity about the legal status of a birth father, the legality of the adoption may be shaky.   Is there a man entitled to notice of the objection–a person who might have a legal objection?  If so, who and where is he?    The registry addresses this concern.   Before the adoption is completed, you look at the registry.  If there is a man (or men) there, then they get notice, etc.  If there isn’t, then the adoption can be finalized without notice.   In that case the law operates to make the adoption sound because the man who fails to register has no legal rights to the child.

The only complaint I see would be that men (and people more generally) shouldn’t have to do anything to claim legal parental rights where they are genetically related to a child created via intercourse.   (You could also say more generally that men shouldn’t have to do anything no matter how the child is created.)   That’s a plausible position, but it isn’t one I agree with.   I don’t think the mere fact of genetic connection should give rise to parental rights.

I think there are a number of ways I might justify my position, but perhaps the best would be to invoke the well-being of children. If a man cannot be bothered to even register then what kind of a parent will he make for that child?   Surely the child would be better off in the care of someone who was a bit more committed to parenting, even if that person wasn’t genetically related to the child?   (I’m not suggesting that we should either erase or ignore the fact of genetic connection to some man out there–only that we shouldn’t grant that man legal parental rights.)

There’s a second practical reason why it’s better for children generally to have registries like this.   As I noted above, they make the adoption process easier.  Without them, the child is in limbo.  There’s surely a genetic father out there but we don’t know where.   He’s not being a parent to the child and he’s standing in the way of anyone else taking legal responsibility as a parent.   I’m not sure who benefits in that scenario, but I’m pretty clear it isn’t the child.

Now perhaps I am unrealistically optimistic about the possibility of effective education and administration of the registries.  That’s certainly possible.  And that is a critical assumption I’m making.   But at least thinking about the registries like this tells me that it is there–the education and administration piece– that the critical issues lie.





60 responses to “Further Thoughts About Putative Father Registries

  1. Julie said: “I don’t think the mere fact of genetic connection should give rise to parental rights.”

    So if they sign up and no adoption happens then they pay child support. If they don’t sign up, and the mother parents they pay no child support because just a genetic connection shouldn’t give rise to parental rights?

    I don’t think you get to have it both ways.

    • I know this makes people somewhat crazy but I do think I can have it both ways–or at least I can make the argument. A man could be obliged to pay child support just as he is obliged to pay for the natural and foreseeable consequences of his acts. This could be completely independent of his ability to claim parental rights–which are rights to make decisions for/about the child.

      In a more radically different world I might make an argument that the costs of raising a child are something that should be shared more generally–as we do to some extent with regard to public education and some minimal health care. In that world the need for child support wouldn’t drive the allocation of parental rights.

      I really do think that parental rights–the right to control a child’s life–are quite a different thing from having to help bear the expenses of a child. I don’t know why we should necessarily link them.

      • Julie,

        Maybe I have incorrect information but if a father is paying child support then he has the same right as the mother to go to court, and get full custody and receive child support from the mother, or a shared custody agreement that could zero out his child support, or reduce it based on the percentage of custody. If that understanding is incorrect, then maybe you have a point – but if paying child support is because he has parental rights, then your argument fails because he didn’t have to do anything to protect that right, and he certainly did not have to act prior to the birth of the child to retain the right.

        I don’t think you want to base a law on the 1% of the mothers who chose adoption vs the 99% of the mothers who chose to parent.

        • Julie,

          My era an unwed father wasn’t even notified, and by law had no right to consent, or contest the adoption – he also was not on the hook to pay any child support. All that changed when the laws stated changing requiring unwed fathers to pay child support – with responsibilities come rights or you create a second class group of citizens which I believe the constitution has something to say about.

          Justice Scalia was correct in his additional dissent on the Adoptive Parents vs Baby case – it was a blow to the biological fathers rights – and if Justice Scalia, a very conservative person as far as I know says that – then it says a lot.

          • “it was a blow to the biological fathers rights – and if Justice Scalia, a very conservative person as far as I know says that – then it says a lot.”

            It didn’t surprise me. Scalia supports bio-normative parental and sexual arrangements. It’s consistent with his thoughts in _Lawrence v. Texas_.

    • Dan in Tennessee

      I think you do not understand the putative father registry. It has nothing to do with child support. If a man signs up, that doesn’t mean he opts into child support.

      • Dan – I’m not arguing that it does. My argument is that a father does not have to do anything to retain his parental rights which include court ordered child support (and by extension the right to request custody from the court). Yet only in cases of adoption 1% of births does the man have to act prior to the birth to retain those same parental rights that he doesn’t have to do anything to gain when adoption is not part of the conversation.

        You can’t have something both ways – either they don’t have to do anything to retain their parental rights (which comes with responsibilities such as child support) – or it is a voluntary right that a man takes on with his acknowledgment on a putative fathers registry.

        Either a father has parental rights when his child is born – or he doesn’t. Right now every state will go after and force a father to support his child. By that act they have confirmed that he has parental rights. It isn’t voluntary – it’s the law that you support your biological child – married or not and rights go with that responsiblity.

        Only in the world of adoption do they view that an unwed biological father has no parental rights (and corresponding responsibilities), and if he hasn’t stepped up and signed the registry / submitted a paternity pleadings to court / paid for pre-natal support etc then he’s out of luck. But should the mother change her mind and parent instead and despite all those obvious things the man did not do – suddenly those unwed biological parental rights exist, and he’s on the hook. It can’t work that way in real life – either you have parental rights if you are an unwed biological father of the child – or you don’t.

        • yes yes yes yes yes. This is logical. Julie see I am not the only one that points out these inconsistencies and they result in unequal treatment of people who are in the very same situation which is they created a dependent minor that requires care. Pretty clear cut that the child is their problem or joy to deal with. We see these vastly different rules come into play in order to get more babies into the hands of some person or people that similarly view the child as an object to be coveted. adopt

        • I’m a little unclear on what you mean. Do you mean to say that a genetic father should not have to do anything in order to obtain legal parental rights? (This would be an statement about how the law ought to be, in your view.) Or are you saying that in lots of circumstances a genetic father doesn’t have to do anything in order to obtain legal parental rights. (This would be a statement describing how the law operates and then the question might be whether it is factually accurate.)

          It is certainly true that sometimes and for some purposes simple genetic fatherhood can be enough. In particular, if an unmarried woman gives birth and wants to raise the child, the genetically related man may be deemed the father (especially for purposes of child support) based solely on genetic linkage.

          It’s also true that you can argue that having different sets of rules for different circumstances is confusing, complicated and generally a bad idea. It would clearly be more straightforward to have one rule for determining legal fatherhood in all cases and one easy rule would be to assign it to the genetically related man. I don’t like this rule–as I’m sure everyone here knows–but there’s no doubt it would be clear and it could be uniform.

          • I am saying right now that to be required by court order to pay child support a father does not have to do anything to protect his parental rights (which include more than child support) and can not do anything to revoke his parental responsibility of child support – except when the mother wants adoption, and the state has very narrow guidelines and registries to ensure the adoption goes through. This is wrong and I can’t say it more plainly than that.

            As to the insistence of pre-natal support to protect said rights (which in essence means he already has rights). No one wants to go near that elephant in the room with how wrong-headed that concept is. If the man is required to do that – then the man should have the same rights in said pre-natal care and that includes whether the babe is aborted or not. Really don’t think you want to go down that road because you want to challenge Roe vs. Wade.

            As to the registries – does the man need to register each time he has sex, daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly if he is in a committed relationship? Or just the weeks during, and immediately after, ovulation?

            And how does the man register – with his social security number so if he moves and forgets to updated it with his change of address – would he be tracked through that?

            Perhaps the registry and onus should be on the female – directly after she had sex including who she had sex with just in case she got pregnant, and after the pregnancy test is positive updates her file if she decides not to abort choses not want to parent, so she can preserve her right to chose adoption. That way a man can query whether or not a child he has fathered is on the way and act accordingly. That seems much more streamlined as only those women who want to preserve the option of adoption would be required to register…

            And finally, how do you deal with the numerous and different requirements each state has in addition to the national registry – to my knowledge unless there is a constitutional amendment the states have a right to require additional actions.

            • Indeed, what you say in the first paragraph is correct. And that does highlight the inconsistency. If we are looking for child support we do one thing. If we are looking towards adoption (which is a different way of dealing with the child support issue as the newly adoptive parents will then be obliged to pay support) we do something else. There are many ways to critique this and one can certainly argue that consistency is better. The post I just put up is an effort to explain why we do treat the cases where there is a proposed adoption differently. Even if you don’t find the reasons persuasive, at least there are reasons for doing so. And as a matter of history, I think the reasons I outlined have some explanatory power–by which I mean they explain how and why we ended up where we are.

              I don’t agree with your second paragraph. I think you can give a woman who is pregnant greater rights vis-à-vis decisions about the pregnancy because she’s pregnant and he isn’t. And I think you can still place some obligations on him. But this is obviously a different topic and likely a very contentious one. Maybe best not to explode it in the comments.

              I don’t think a man in a committed relationship needs to register at all. He’ll have lots of ways of showing his involvement. If, however, the relationship falls apart and the woman vanishes, then he would be prudent to sign up. Unless he really doesn’t care about being a parent, in which case he needn’t bother. I don’t think anyone imposes an obligation that he sign up close to conception–just before the birth of the child. That gives him rather a long time to think it over, really.

              The reason the onus isn’t on the woman here is that (as the new post I just put up tries to make clear) we are trying to deal with precisely those cases in which the woman will not help find the man. We’re looking for a way for the man to help himself without relying on her. I’ll leave it there for now since I did just put up this other post.

          • In all circumstances except when non parents want to be parents

      • Right. It’s sole purpose is to require he be given notice in the event of a proposed adoption.

  2. This seems the wrong way round to me. A man is the father if he is the biological father. If someone wants to terminate his natural rights, then surely the onus is on them to do the hard yards. There would be men out there who might have an interest in the child provided they knew about it. But let’s say a man impregnated a woman when he was on an interstate business trip. Or conversely, after he impregnated a woman, he took off overseas for a while. How could such a man possibly register a potential interest in a child? And many men surely become fathers unwittingly, because their partner/girlfriend/one-night-stand declared that she was using contraception. There must be a lot of men who have absolutely no idea that they are fathers – or that there’s even a remote possibility that they’re a father.

    Then there are people who become fathers because they’re chaotic and not organised enough to wear a condom, or because they were drunk at the time. They’re not going to be organised enough to go and find a registry and sign up – but this shouldn’t strip them of parental rights. You don’t lose basic human rights just because you’re chaotic or drunk in other instances, unless you actually break the law.

    Then there’s the civil rights issue of insisting that men register every time they have sex outside marriage, or risk losing any rights to a child that might result – even in cases where a child couldn’t normally have been foreseen (e.g. where one of the parties was using contraception that later turned out to be faulty). That would be a national database of citizens’ sexual activity.

    ‘Opt in’ registrations are always more onerous than doing nothing. It’s why some countries now tell you that everyone in the country is now an organ donor unless you specifically opt out. They know that most people won’t take the time and effort involved in tracking down the form and the right office, so almost everybody in the population has suddenly become a potential organ donor.

    Before fathers are stripped of rights, the burden should be on the mother or the court or whatever to do their utmost to track down the father and inform him that he is actually a father. Adoption is a grave and irrevocable step. How appalling would it be to find that you’d fathered a child which was now gone forever? While I can see this leading to many problems, particularly if the relationship has gone sour and/or the father is malicious, coercive or violent, it’s not fair either to strip a man of his rights just because he didn’t know there was a form to be filled in – or wasn’t actually physically available to fill in the form.

    I realise this doesn’t address this particular blog post, where you’re asking about HOW such a registry would work. In my view, it couldn’t in any fair way.

    I must say, I’m also astounded that there are such things operating in so many states! Interesting topic.

    • I think there’s much to say in response to your points, but let me just take a quick moment to address one things. As the law currently is, a man is not a legal father just because he is the biological (or genetic) father. Sometimes he may claim the role, sometimes not. It’s quite complicated and has been discussed here in other places. The whole premise of the father’s registries is that he isn’t a legal father until he does something–and that something could be filing with the registry.

      I’m not offering that as an argument, but rather just as a description. I’m sure many people don’t like it that the law is this way, but it is. What this means is that when you say it’s the wrong way round you are offering a critique of existing law. Nothing wrong with doing that, but I like to be clear about what is the law and what is up for grabs. It is, of course, true, that the law can be changed.

      More later.

      • Bullsht that is a lie. Of course he is the father without registering. Of course he does not need to do anything. Julie you consistently say that and rarely if ever acknowledge the big points of the state hunting men down and testing them to determine if they are the father or not and if they are they put their name on the birth record and charge them childsupport, not just from the day they figured out who he was and named him, but retroactively back to the point of birth because he always was the child’s father. If he is not available to be tested the state will test his relatives to determine if he is the father he does not need to do a damn thing. And with adoption and notifying the father when he is unknown….they look for him because the child does have a right to him specifically he is their father and if they cannot figure out who he is they will terminate his very real existing rights in absentia and I have given you the exact wording from the code and it says very explicitly that the fathers rights are being terminated because they cannot figure out who he is but they have to terminate the rights he definitely does have prior to allowing the adoption to go through. I think that is wretched that they terminate his legal status as father not knowing who he is because just as body crimes said he might be completely unaware for any number of reasons not the least of which is a manipulative and deceitful X. You really need to stop saying that men do not have parental obligations to their biological children. Being that you are a lawyer it is just as bad as Dr. Sweet trying to get away with saying that his sterile and infertile patients are able to conceive or reproduce with the help of a donor. Its medically inaccurate and what you say it is legally inaccurate. The vast majority of people are not adopted and their fathers did not have to have their names on a registry for them to be legal kin to their father and paternal relatives. The biological father is the father it says so in the code because it is true as a medical fact the child originated from him the child is his obligation to deal with . Being married does not make you a father because you can rebut that with biological evidence to the contrary. Yes they have a time limit and that is so wrong but at least it is allowed to be rebutted as a biological mistake, meaning the marital presumption is a courtesy granted for the state’s convenience not the convenience of anyone who wishes to lie or wishes to get away with taking children out of their families.

        • First off, please watch your language. I don’t mean to be prudish but it does not enhance discussion (which really is my goal) to get all inflammatory and offensive. You can say whatever you want without resorting to profanity. I’m just sure of it.

          Beyond that, the statement can be read as accurate. When a man and a woman who are unmarried have sex and a child results, the man may not be recognized as the legal father of the child unless he takes some other action. The mere fact that he is the genetic father and that the child was conceived via sex does not make him into a legal father in all instances and for all purposes. That is an accurate statement of law. You can say you don’t like it, but you cannot deny it’s accuracy.

          I do not mean to say that genetic connection alone is never enough to make a man into a legal father. Sometimes it is enough. As you say, men can and are hunted down for child support (and then typically also given parental rights, whether they want them or not) based solely on genetic connection.

          Is this inconsistent? Yes. Perhaps the inconsistency arises from our need to find someone to support (financially) the child. If a woman is keeping a child–and especially is she needs or wants child support) then we will hunt down the man and use genetics alone. If instead a woman wants to give up a child and place it for adoption, then in most places genetics alone is not enough to give a man the right to object. In that instance, some other family is taking on the obligation of support and we don’t want the man to stand in the way of that. Lehr (a case we’ve discussed before) tells us this is constitutional. The registries we are talking about are only for this last category of cases–the ones where there are adoptions.

    • I’m back again. Let’s say a man impregnated a woman while on a business trip or just before going overseas. If he cares about the possible child then he can still get his name on the list. If he doesn’t care, then he doesn’t act. I don’t see why the business trip ought to give him any greater rights than a man who actually lives in town.

      It’s certainly more onerous than doing nothing, but that’s the point. In my view, you ought not to get to control a child’s life without making a little effort–beyond the effort required for intercourse.

      Your database point is a good one. I’m not sure what I think about that. Maybe this, too, is just the price of parenthood. After all, if you want to claim parenthood you’re going to essentially confess to having had sex. I suppose a cautious man might wait a while and try to find out whether there’s a pregnancy-because if there is no pregnancy then there is no need to register. I am having trouble getting too worked up about the hardship wrought on men who sleep with multiple women with no idea of whether pregnancy results. But that’s not analysis-that’s a gut reaction. I will think more about this.

      • She raised a very valid point about sleeping with a woman who was supposedly using birth control or for men who did use birth control. And you ignore my point about the lengths the very same state will go to to locate the same unknown father themselves testing and hunting testing his relatives and if they get that positive dna test they will name him as father whether his name is on that registry or not. He will have no choice in the matter because his child is his obligation to care for whether he likes it or not whether he bothered to send in a post card to meet your ridiculous criteria for having done something to qualify for being a parent.

        Have you actually been pregnant and delivered a child Julie because you put waaaaay too much on being pregnant and all the caregiving and relationship building you say women do. You don’t have to do jack squat when your pregnant and the baby if it is healthy will just come often times despite taking poor care of ones self and acting as if there is no body or mind developing in there. You go about your business as you normally would only your fat and uncomfortable and unattractive. Pregnancy is not necessarily a sign of interest in the child it is frequently a sign of having ones head in the sand pretending it is not happening and then it is too late to do anything about the pregnancy from a medical standpoint. What people do after their offspring is born is what bonds them to the child what builds a personal relationship the one that you are so fond of nurture. Nurture is very real and pregnancy means nothing to the person delivered. They won’t remember it anyway. What counts is the nurturing. What counts is who owes it to the kid to nurture them and it is the bio parent. Being pregnant should not mean that you get to decide that the child’s father has no obligation or that some arbitrary person your in love with at the moment gets to hijack your kid out of their family and into a permanent relationship with a step parent. It might be what the mother wishes was real but its not real.

        • I do not ignore your point about the differential treatment when the state wants child support. I agree–the state acts differently when it is looking for child support (in which case biology alone will do) than when it is seeking to clear the way for an adoption. You can view the second, I suppose, as a different way of ensuring child support–it will then come from the adoptive parents.

          The mere fact of inconsistent treatment never ends an inquiry, though, and I think I’ve gone on to consider whether the treatment is justified.

          You are obviously entitled to your belief about how much weight (if any) to give the fact of pregnancy. I, too, am entitled to a belief. I’m not sure having been pregnant is a requisite for having an opinion or we’d have to discount the opinions of all men. And I’m not at all sure what a poll of only those who have been pregnant would yield. In any event, since you ask, I have not been pregnant.

          • The goal in asking if you had been is to say its not what makes a woman a mother in the social sense that you find so important and it is not what makes a woman a mother in the responsibility sense that I find so important. The bond of care giving that psychological parenthood is experienced by a person through the care they got after they were born. The bond a person feels toward their absent mother is because they are her responsibility they are part of her family she made them they are connected to her and her relatives she was suppose to look after them and care how they turned out. The pregnancy is not the thing that makes her special it is who she is the fact that they are half her. There is a debt there because they are her offspring not because she carried and delivered them. It is a connection that can be measured in their living body and it is equal to that of their male parent. People gravitate toward their missing mother first because of how motherhood socially works they think she’s more important or that they’d be more important to her than to their father. Many people I’ve found for their fathers were surprised that he was out there looking for them. I am happy to see as many fathers equally anguished at the loss of their children into adoptive homes.
            So the fact that you were never pregnant does not count against your motherhood. It is not that big of a deal. That is not what makes a biological mother special. Many women that carry egg donor pregnancies don’t get that. You blow the pregnancy aspect of it out of proportion. That may be a necessary part of your particular political approach. It should not give a woman the right to get sole discretion over what happens to the child.

            • Also what I mean to say is that if you place pregnancy on a pedestal the way you do the other parent is always there at her discretion. The other parent would have no relationship with the child were it not for her appointing them as if the other parent needed her permission. That is the nature of adoptive parenthood but parents that make a child have don’t need one another’s permission to have an obligation to care for the person they created. Are adoptive mothers more important than adoptive fathers? Some day we will be able to grow babies in bath tubs what then?

              • I don’t mean to place pregnancy on a pedestal (and I’m not convinced that I do.) but I do mean to take it into account, particularly when we are thinking about parental rights of newborns. The pregnant woman’s experience of the pregnancy is different from that of her partner–whether the partner is male or female, genetically related or not. Indeed, no one has the experience the pregnant woman does. And the pregnant woman does have a quite complex and multilayered relationship with the child. There’s a lot to it, as I think we are beginning to understand with epigenetics and all the rest.

                There are also practical things. We don’t have a problem locating the pregnant woman at the time the child is born because she has to be there. The man might be there, but might not be.

                FWIW, I don’t think that having been pregnant/given birth gives you a lasting advantage in the legal parent sweepstakes or in the psychological parent one either. I don’t that a year later we should be granting any preference to the person who was pregnant. For the purpose of these registries, however, it seems to me the man and the woman involved are in meaningfully different positions and some of that certainly has to do with pregnancy.

                • As long as your not making pregnancy the be all end all of superior rank in parenthood. Let’s just say you had a partner and neither of you could reproduce even with Mr. Supersperm and one of you gestated the offspring of a couple of donors, the fact that one of you was pregnant is not going to make a damn bit of difference to the child being raised who won’t remember any of it. To the kid you’d be on completely equal ground having raised them and it would be a matter of who lets them get away with more (good cop bad cop) if they were doing a popularity pole. It may be an integral part of your political strategy, but don’t you get too wound up in thinking that the birthing makes a woman more motherly or important – your contribution in care giving I’m sure is very much pound for pound even Steven. Being pregnant is important but it does not make a parent on its own. I’m feeling a bit protective of your motherhood as a matter of fact. I’m sure your thinking you’ve done just fine without my brand of empathy. I’m colorful and sincere though.

    • good point, i failed to note julies suggestion that people register every time they had sex. that would be a sex registry, not a paternity registry. and that is really no ones business. the earliest a man would register is at the time he became aware of the pregnancy. and even then, most would not register as long as he and girlfriend were getting along and she didnt mention adoption….

      • Dan in Tennessee

        And this is really my greatest complaint about the registry. What reasonable man signs into a registry after having sex with a stranger or even with a long term girlfriend? No one I know would do that. The entire premise seems deeply flawed.

        • I think we might expect a man who thought “hey, there might be a child conceived and if there is, I’d like to help raise that child” would sign if he knew he needed to. This is the education part. Or, as I will discuss in today’s post, he could just stick around and help out. Almost any man who does that will also have to be given notice.

      • I think the question of whether it is a sex registry is both interesting and important and I’ll discuss that in today’s post (she promises optimistically). That said, I won’t comment on it right here right now.

  3. My state has a putative father’s database, but we had never heard of it prior to adopting our daughter. Our social worker told us that it wasn’t well known. If we knew didn’t know about it, and we had become well-versed in adoption matters, than it was very likely that a regular Joe didn’t know about it either. Your post yesterday about getting the info out was very timely. I was at a minor league baseball game where I noticed a large billboard encouraging men to register. (I should have snapped a picture.) Anway, I’ll be mulling over your excellent points with my husband as I normally do.

    • Wow–a billboard. Where was that? (I mean state/city.)

      It’s not hard to imagine a public education compaign–bus boards, billboards, TV ads, internet. I’ve just never really seen it. And I do think that the reality is that the registries aren’t well publicized as things currently stand. That is a problem. But it is, I think, a fixable one.

  4. I don’t know sometimes if all this your opinions this blog are really just tongue in cheek like that movie of the week in the 1980’s the wave where the teacher taught the entire school a lesson on how easily a large group of people could be controlled by language manipulation techniques he was teaching how the Nazis got the Germans to blindly follow horrific orders.

    The reason I say that is because your views are so property focused with that thin veil of being child focused. Of course they are not child focused because in your ideal situation the child has the right to be possessed by whoever wants him the most – earns him – invests time and money in him. The child has no automatic right to anyone’s support absent an investment in him/her. What if nobody is interested in raising him her? There is no obligation to identify ones self as being the cause of another human beings existence no obligation to be recorded as the source of their offspring and in fact allow others to pretend to be the source of their offspring on official medical records and on the vital statistics that medical research is based on? How is this all suppose to work and why would people have more of a right to skirt the truth skirt responsibility? Why is that such a good idea?

    There are plenty of things in life that we are obligated to do that we don’t want to do and that we might not be very good at but we do it because it is our responsibility to deal with the results of our own actions. It is unconscionable that we would allow people to shirk responsibility because their children are such a hot property. .

    • Only rarely do I mean to be tongue in cheek and I hope it is rather obvious when that is.

      I do actually mean to be child focused (as I gather you do) and I think it is kind of funny that we each think the other is rather more property focused. I do not think a parent should be the person who wants the child most or who pays the most. I do think the award of legal parentage should take into account demonstrated commitment to care for the child. I don’t think that’s property focused (but I know you do.) Thus, if a person takes a child into his house and cares for the child as a parent cares for a child, I’d consider that important in any decent test for parenthood. I think that will, in the end and overall, serve children well.

      By contrast the genetic approach (I know you don’t like it when I call it that, but it seems to me descriptive) looks like a “your materials built it so it is yours” argument which sounds to me like property. I know it doesn’t seem this way to you.

      I know we are long past the point where we are likely to convince each other of anything. I hope, however, that this going round and round is either educational or entertaining for others. I do wonder sometimes. And it does keep me on my toes.

      • I have learned so much here I really cannot thank you enough. My opinions have changed greatly since I started reading here. And you have convinced me of quite a bit. In fact my view points are nothing at all what they were the first time I read this blog. I thought ending anonymity was enough

  5. As you said, I am doubtful about the possibility of educating society effectively. That is why I believe that the registry should be available in addition to other ways of establishing paternity, but not in place of them.

    • I don’t think anyone proposes registries as the only way. It’s usually portrayed as the last resort–the one thing a man can do all on his own with no cooperation from the woman/mother. Other things tend to be participation in the child’s life or in the pregnancy. I’m not sure if there are still other things that you would like to see included.

      I think public education campaigns–if seriously mounted–can work. I think of things like selective service registration–they do get the word out. You could tie education to other times people interact with the state–when you get a driver’s license you could get notice about registries. And there’s plain old advertising. I’m not an expert on this stuff, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be done IF someone really wanted to do it. The problem, I think, has been that people haven’t really been trying to get the word out.

  6. What about the option of not letting anyone adopt a child without the consent of both parents? Huh? What about just not allowing the adoption to go through in the best interests of the child? There is funding to help single parents raise their children and it would provide the government with the extra insentive it needs to go chase down the father. They sure look for the father a hell of a lot harder when they have to foot the bill to help take care of the kid don’t they? They really press women to identify all the men they slept with they hunt them down if they can’t find them they test the men’s relatives….why don’t they do the same thing for kids being placed for adoption?

    It is just terrible that the men they chase down for child support can’t say that they did not put their names on the registry so they are not responsible for their children.

    Whoever is for this idea of a national registry won’t have any problem with getting rid of child support from anyone who does not feel like it who did not sign up for the registry.

    The child is not a reward an object that goes to the people who care the most. Julie says if he can’t be bothered to fill out a post card he probably would not be a very good father. Oh my god. Yes they are objects manufactured for people who deserve them and want them. Sick sick sick,

    • You can certainly require the consent of both genetic parents (which I take it is what you mean.) The problem is there are plenty of instances where there’s a woman ready to give her consent and there’s no man anywhere around. Now what? No adoption, right? That’s a problem for the kid. How long do we have to try to find the missing man and where is the child during that time?

      This circumstance of the absent man is not exactly rare, I’m afraid. The idea of the registries and the surrounding law is that this offers protection to any man who actually cares enough to register (because then he gets notice and can have his say) and at the same time allows those children whose genetic fathers don’t register to be placed for adoption in a timely fashion.

      Why are you worried about men who know they need to register but choose not to?

      • Can you review for me why no adoption is a problem for the kid? I think you can spend a good deal of time trying to find the father if you were the people who wanted to adopt. If they could not find him or proof of his death then they’d just have to foster or the mother would have to keep her child or whatever. I don’t see why the child must be adopted in order to make it to 18 with the same set of people taking care of him/her.

        See the child actually looses quite a bit when they are adopted and maybe the real solution is to change that aspect so that their name and birth record is never changed. So that if they ever do find him or a sibling which happens a bunch or a grandmother tracks the kid down so that in that event they are not legally someone else’s kin. Ultimately if you figure out who your father is or was you can have it added to your birth record so long as nobody else’s name is there. Maybe that is another aspect of record keeping that needs correcting because there are tons of people with the wrong parents named on their records that would like to have that corrected, would like to not have to live like that forever when they can walk into court with a sibling or the parent and a dna test and say look here is my parent here are my siblings please legally recognize us and put my record straight. Put my actual parent’s name down so that I am a legal member of my own family.

        So really I don’t have a problem with other people wanting to raise the kid in the absense of their father and and their mother not wanting to participate. It is the permanance of it that causes the problems in the long run. The fact that nobody would be willing to raise them unless they got to keep them as their child forever and give them a new identity is pretty bad actually. It’s like they have to return the favor right off the bat. The people are not helping out of pure kindness they are helping because they want something in return – something for their investment,, they want a forever child and they want to be parents.

        I really wonder if people would adopt if they did not get something in return like that. If the kid did not owe it to them to take on a new identity and forsake their own family in service to those who are raising them. Its a barter really but the kid has no say in it. There really is no reason why it could not work. Why a person’s right to support by their parents should ever be interrupted just because someone else is raising them. It makes sense that if the parents should ever get on their feet that they should have to help contribute to their child’s upbringing. It makes sense that the child not be moved for consistency sake unless the child wants to move or unless of really extenuating circumstances. It really should be collaborative once the parents are capable of taking care of their children. There should be none of this they don’t want to so they don’t have to stuff. If they don’t want to the best they should be able to get is someone to raise them for them with them still having to contribute to their child’s welfare in some fashion.

        So the damage comes from the permanency. But not the permanency of having two great people take care of them its the permanency of being erased out of their family that is the problem. So maybe I need to think through what my objection really is.

        I know that I object to unequal treatment and I think it is a good exercise for everyone to walk it through to its logical end. What happens when we apply any policy broadly across the board equally how much sense does it make. Men are the automatic fathers of their own offspring and that comes with what I call obligations but the law calls them parental rights. I say it’s the child that has the right to their bio father and not the other way around.

        These registries are set up to help them loose their rights good grief duh. Because if they don’t sign the registry the court goes through the process of terminating their rights. Know what the federal government says? They say that the agency and parents have to make a big effort to find the father before letting the adoption go through. Probably just the same as the effort put forth for child support and these registries are their flimsy ass excuse for trying really hard? The fathers rights are terminated when they cannot find him in order to allow the adoption to go through so stop saying men are not automatically fathers of their bio children it is not not true.

        Without these registries it is not like the adoption could go through the federal government prohibits it because the father has rights. These registries don’t make it an option for him to claim their rights – in fact if we got rid of the registry idea alltogether and just left it as it is for other bio fathers where the state has to look for them it would be far better for children as it would prevent many children from being adopted in the first place while they were looking for the father. It would prevent adoption and that is what the goal is right? To keep kids out of adoptive families and in their own families unless there is no other alternative? We need to do what we can to preven unnecessary adoptions. Ideally every parent would want to keep and raise their own children and nobody would have to be adopted.

        • “I really wonder if people would adopt if they did not get something in return like that…It really should be collaborative once the parents are capable of taking care of their children.”

          Isn’t this foster care? People take in care for them until legal parents get back on their feet?

          Some people do foster children, and it would be a better world if we all felt an obligation to help out children in need until their parents could get back on their feet.

          It is a problem when the child doesn’t have anyone. Children get bounced around from home to home in foster care. One of my friends, w was working to help out a 19 year old student who aged out of the foster system. He was homeless for a few weeks during the summer, and she got him into University dorms a few weeks early.

          • the motive of most people who adopt is not to help children and thats ok. the motive is to replace the biological child they don’t have. it is hoped that once they do hav ethe child parental love will develop to override their own concerns.
            It’s unrealistic to expect large numbers of people to behave out of complete altruism.
            Nor collaborative parenting between completely unrelated folks with different roles in the child’s life.

          • It would be a better world if people helped out to get parents back on their feet. I think the foster system is a great idea. As you point out though it needs a lot of work because there really is no need to have kids bounced around. Standards for foster parents should be just as high as for adoptive parents. I think it might be in the best interest of people if they were not adopted but rather fostered because it is respectful of who they are as individuals respectful of their unique identity and their roll in their own family even if their own family is not so hot at raising kids. Obviously foster parents have a good amount of authority while the child is in their care and the system could be changed to where the foster parents foot the bill while the foster child was in their care. They’d get the tax deductions they’d add the child to their insurance etc but it would not be completely permanent in the way that the child would ever loose his or her own identity or legal kinship within their own family.

            That is really the key adding the kid to a new family without erasing any ties to their own family legally. It could happen there is no reason why it can’t work.

            • Very few folks would choose to foster kids at their own expense. ive always planned to have foster kidd once i became settled in my lifestyle but def not at my own expense. lifr is expensive enough as it is. still hope to when my son is grown.

        • As a short answer, no adoption is difficult for the child because there is a great deal of research that shows that children need to form attachments to adult caretakers (parents) as a part of their development. Ideally these attachments should be permanent. (You could read about this in a case called Gill that discussed why a Florida law that allowed gay people to become foster but not adoptive parents harmed children.)

          Adoption guarantees permanence–to the extent it can be guaranteed, of course. Things like guardianship and foster care do not.

          If you have a child where 1) the genetic mother doesn’t want to care for the child and 2) the genetic father is nowhere to be found then you can certainly place the child in foster care with the idea that if/when the father shows up the child will be moved to his care. That’s less than optimal for the child (according to what we know about child development) and it’s for no purpose in those cases where the genetic father never does show up or, like the genetic mother, really has no interest. The idea of the registries is to help us find those cases where even though the genetic father isn’t around, he is interested.

  7. I feel like I shouldn’t keep commenting, because I’m clearly not aware of law in the US – it still seems astounding that men are required to register to prove fatherhood, or they lose rights. Out of interest, how can the state then chase a man for child support, if he doesn’t have the right to know that he has a child that might be given up for adoption?

    • No, no–comment away. It helps us remember that the US is not the only game in town, as it were.

      I think I’ve addressed the answer to the question your raise elsewhere. If the state wants child support, genetics alone is enough. The registries are designed to facilitate adoption.

  8. Since Tao and bodycrimes both brought this up, Julie, I think this is an issue: you seem to be describing parental rights (like visitation or fractional custody, some decision-making authority, etc.) and parental responsibilities (payment of child support, etc.) as independent things that people have directly. I believe many people think of them, though, as independent things that people have indirectly as consequences of having the status Parent. So when a man has responsibilities towards his offspring but no rights with regard to it, that creates the situation of “He has these responsibilities because he is the child’s parent and he doesn’t have these rights because he isn’t the child’s parent”. I think this goes along with the common idea (which you say a radically different world wouldn’t have, though I don’t think that would be a desirable difference) that the only people who properly have an obligation toward any particular child are the child’s parents or legal guardians.

    I honestly have no strong objection, in concept, to the idea of “direct genetic ancestry is a necessary but not sufficient condition for parenthood”. I do think you’re being unreasonably optimistic about the possibility of registries working the way you’d like them to, though, in part because I believe the way they’re currently publicized and administered is deliberate. These registries would be far from unique, though, in being something that was a sound idea in theory but could never be made to work well in practice.

    Oh, and I live in Southeastern Virginia and have never seen the billboard Polwygle describes. I’d only learned registries were a thing in the first place because last year I saw a news blip about the Virginia Supreme Court ruling in the Wyatt case.

    • my feeling is the registry should be used to support the parental rights of the genetic father, not to hinder them. the registry should be used if the man is nowhere to be found. if he is present and protesting the fact that he never signed a registry can not be held against him.

      • How does a registry like this support the rights of the genetic father when the child is to be put up for adoption but not when she is to be raised by her mother? It should really make no difference who else wants to be involved in the child’s life if what we are concerned about is making sure his perceived rights are protected. Or rather that the child’s rights are protected by virtue of attempting to locate her father because it is aparently in the child’s best interest to be cared for by her bio parents if they are capable of doing so or it would not be a step to go through as a precurser to adoption. If failure to sign this register can cost a child legal recognition as her father’s child when the child is on auction block, then why would failure to sign that same registry not have that effect across the board even when the mother is going to raise the child? If it is such a swell idea for kids people want to adopt then lets expand the idea so that everyone can be just as lucky as adopted kids. What if we said every person is entitled to be assigned to qualified adoptive parents only. That to be fair nobody gets to raise their biological children or the children they gestated. Nobody gets to have an accurate family medical history. All birth records would be biologicalaly inaccurate we could do away with paternity suits entirely. Nobody would have any idea who reproduced to create them and nobody would be able to prevent unintended incest. If its all in the best interest of children whose parents don’t want them then its certainly in the best interests of children whose parents do want them because it is far better to be wanted and raised by people who are unable to reproduce because they are more grateful. Giving them the children of the breeders will offset the anguish of childnessless felt by people who are sterile or infertile. Biological connectedness is over rated.

        • The registry supports the rights of the genetic father by allowing him to do something to ensure that he will get notice in the event the child is to placed for adoption, even if the woman who gives birth is entirely unwilling to help give him notice. I understand you might want more for genetic fathers, but this is at least something.

      • This is a tremendously important point. At least in theory, the registries are supposed to operate to benefit men who wish to claim legal fatherhood but who are prevented from doing so by the women involved. Now in fact, they may operate otherwise–because they are so poorly publicized and so difficult to use that men cannot really use them and then their failure to use them is held against them. This is why I think it is worth taking the time to think about whether objections to the registry are based on practical/pragmatic concerns (how they actually operate) or on theoretical ones (how they are supposed to operate.) Save for the sex registry point (which I will write about very very soon now) I don’t see any theoretical objection. Shouldn’t there be a way for a man who wants to parent to register his interest even if the woman who is pregnant won’t assist him with that? That’s what this is meant to be.

        • My main issues with the registries are poor publicity/hiding registry in some states (apparently in some states it’s easy to find what to do with a simple Google search and others not so much) and registries not adequately protecting fathers when the mother further thwarts him by secretly arranging the adoption in another state with different rules.

    • Perhaps I am unreasonably optimistic about how the registries might function. Still it seems to useful to separate objections based on whether the registries can be made to work properly (which I think of as practical or pragmatic objections) from objections based on the idea behind them.

  9. i suppose this is a bit off topic but i’m reminded of a case of a disabled man and disabled woman expecting a child. The disabled woman lived with her mother who was strongly pressuring for an adoption. the man wanted to protest the adoption but wasn’t able to care for the child himself either. I don’t know what the outcome was. Heartbreaking.

  10. The child should have had a right to be raised within her own family and to the states assistance in making that possible in her best interest.

  11. You said: I think we might expect a man who thought “hey, there might be a child conceived and if there is, I’d like to help raise that child” would sign if he knew he needed to. This is the education part. Or, as I will discuss in today’s post, he could just stick around and help out. Almost any man who does that will also have to be given notice.

    For the record, I think that’s utterly unreasonable.

    This just isn’t the way human beings work. I’ll stick my hand up here and admit to having a one night stand a few years back, after drinking too much in a pub one night. I did not know the man’s last name. If a baby had resulted, I would have made every effort to track him down. But the idea that he should have got up the next morning (with a hangover) and gone off and registered with some government agency because he’d had sex the night before, just in case this girl he doesn’t really know gets pregnant, is asking way too much.

    Not only that, but he wouldn’t just be registering the details of his own sex life with an agency – he’d be registering mine. Eventually the state would have a massive database of who slept with whom and when.

    Some one night stands are better forgotten. It gives me the shivers to think that in a different world the details would all be recorded somewhere, all for the sake of the very, very rare instance where a baby might result and be kept and the mother might want to adopt it out.

    • There’s no requirement for the guy to do anything the next morning. It’s just that if, thinking back on it during the ensuing nine months, he figures there might be a child, he ought to have some way of saying he’d be interested in claiming that child. If he is in fact interested. If not, then if you (are whatever woman we’re thinking about) wants to put the child up for adoption, so be it.

      I did just put up another post on this to try to make clear why we might want him to do something to express some interest. If you say he doesn’t have to do anything, then if we cannot find him, you cannot go on with the adoption and that leaves the child in limbo. There’s much more about it in the new post.

    • But also because you the pregnant woman would be in a position to try and find the father because that is what a future mother would do want her child to have both parents whether you knew and liked him or not. You are the one who knows you are pregnant and so it becomes your job to try and make sure the future child has both you and their father in their life. I think it’s reasonable for the future mother to try really hard while pregnant and then once the child is born to inlist the help of the state or an agency to find him and if they don’t tough luck no adoption.

      • This is only a response to your last statement. Are you really saying that in the event the man is just a really irresponsible jerk who effectively hides you’d prevent the being adopted by people who would actually care for him/her? You’d leave the child in some sort of impermanent limbo on the off-chance that at some point the guy changes his mind/comes to his senses or whatever? This seems like punishing a child for something hardly her/his fault and I don’t quite see what the justification for that would be. (This isn’t really to do with the registries, but we’re playing out related scenarios, I think.)

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