Asking Amy About Fathers

Going for two days in a row with posts here, which is one way of getting back in stride.  It does mean, however, that I haven’t had a chance to look at comments.  My apologies.   I’ll get to them, I promise.

Meantime, this morning my local paper (The Seattle Times) had an advice column Q and A that seemed pertinent.   It’s from “Ask Amy” and I found it on the columnists website.

There has been a lot of discussion here about unmarried fathers and their rights.   (You can use the tag “unmarried parent” I think.)   A lot of it has been sympathetic to men who are shut out of their genetic children’s lives.   And indeed, that sympathy may be perfectly appropriate in a number of instances.  It all depends, I think.

The question Amy is asked, however, arises from the “other side of the coin” scenario.   The genetic father is not a good guy–drugs, unstable, violent.   And he wants nothing to do with his genetic daughter.   The daughter is 13, though, and wants to know about her genetic origins.  The mom (who has raised the daughter) doesn’t want to expose her to the hurt that seems likely to follow from learning the truth.  And there’s also a social father in the picture–a man who stepped into the otherwise empty shoes and has been there for a decade.

I think Amy’s advice here is on-target.   You need to be honest with the child, but you also need to be sensitive to all the circumstances.   Give the information she can accept at her age.   Maybe more comes later. Stand by her and with her as she goes through the process that must follow.

And (this to me is critical) make sure to fix the law part.  The social father must have legal rights here.  Imagine if something happened to the mother–shouldn’t this child end up with her social father rather than her genetic one?  Who could think that in these circumstances the genetic father would be a better placement than the social father?

But the law might require just that.   I don’t have any idea, really, because  there isn’t enough information here.   Still it seems to me that the advice to adopt is sound.

Beyond that, it seems to me that even if they don’t get around to adoption, the law should operate to ensure that the child’s life continues with as much stability as possible–and that means that the law recognizes the social father here.   This is what a doctrine like de facto parentage can accomplish.  The child’s security should not depend on whether the mother and her husband have the time, money and foresight to complete an adoption.

Whenever we think/talk/write about unmarried fathers there are a range of possible scenarios to consider.   On the one hand you have the sympathetic cases, some of which were discussed at length here.  (The ICWA case from this summer is such a case, I think.)  But there are also stories like this one, where it’s hard for me to muster any sympathy for the unmarried father.   One thing we really ought to know before we start making legal policy is which scenarios are most common, or perhaps how common each scenario is.

Sometimes I think the best the law can do is work in the most common situations.   (At the very least, it ought to work in the most common situations.)  I’m afraid the scenario Amy is writing about may be all too common.   But I confess I don’t really know.

69 responses to “Asking Amy About Fathers

  1. Julie – there should be a way to legally exclude bad fathers – just like there should legally be a way to exclude bad mothers. What the criteria would be I don’t know but I’m sure smarter minds could come up with a path that can weed out the bad ones.

    And no, I don’t believe it should have anything to do with supporting the woman while carrying the fetus, because that allows for corruption to enter into the picture either by a bad lawyer or her own choice of circumventing his rights.

    • There are established routes for terminating parental rights. But there’s an separate question about when parental rights attach. To say the genetic father here was a legal father but should have his rights terminated is different from saying he never became a legal father. Partly this is important because once a person becomes a legal parent (father or mother) they are entitled to procedural protections before anything changes.

      It’s the entry into legal parenthood that I think has been the controversial subject of discussion here. We’ve talked less about the termination of parental rights.

      Beyond that, it seems to me what this story illustrates is that sometimes people do not attend to legal niceties and just go right along with their lives. (Of course, I don’t know for sure that this is the case here.) Suppose no one in this family has been to court yet–what does the law do by default? I’d like to say that the genetic father has no rights anymore. Perhaps we don’t have to worry so much about whether he ever did at this point. And I’d like to say that the husband/social father does have rights. Or I can put this differently: I’d like to say that the law protects the child’s relationship with her social/psychological parent.

  2. UGH. You say you want to think about the best interests of children generally and then you post stuff like this! All dependent minors should have the right to be cared for and supported by those who caused their dependency and the right to legal recognition as kin within their own genetic families for a host of health and social reasons regardless of who happens to be caring for them.

    Should all minors have the right to care and support of the people who caused them to be dependent or should all minors have the right to care and support from whoever happens to feel like doing the job? If you want to say that the child should have the right to remain where she is, then I’d say let it be her right to go live with her father and his family and her option to stay where she is if agreed to by the step or social father who had been raising her and of course if agreed to by the father who had not been raising her. Her right to her father’s care and support should not be extinguished either by her father’s neglect or inaction nor her the care and action of her mother’s spouse or partner.

    I think step parents and social parents are in an excellent position to be considered first in line to become guardians in the event that the remaining living parent is deemed unfit by a court of law based on convictions for crimes that make full custody unsafe for the child. As opposed to going into the foster care of a stranger or being adopted by a stranger.

    These assertions of the child’s father’s fitness are bandied about and treated as if the God’s honest truth by you Julie and that is neither fair nor just. Most women have a fatal flaw of wanting their current lover to be the parent of their child. Its is a sick sad twisted feature of womanhood that I am ashamed of. Women often want to pretend their child’s other parent does not exist and frequently do everything they can to bolster the parent-like status of their new partner to the detriment of their child’s relationship with the actual parent. Many times women turn a blind eye and deaf ear to abuse by their new partners in order to craft the facade of her children actually being the children of her new partner. That is not to say that all new partners are abusive and all old partners are angels, only that women are inclined to want the previous partner to be non-existent and often abuse by the new partner is swept under the rug and the flaws of the old partner are played up.

    If the father of the child was in jail or the father of the child had supervised visitation only because the child was in danger in his care, then the law should look to the father’s family to see if any of them or the mother’s family would be willing guardians of the child. If no family members wanted to be willing guardians the law should look to the friends or spouses of the parents who are familiar to the child to see if any of them would be willing guardians and that being in their care would be preferable to being in the care of a strange foster or adoptive family.

    The best interests of children generally should be first concerned with maintaining their right to financial and physical support by their parents and parent’s families OVER familiarity with their living arrangements. If the parents and families wish to maintain the existing living situation for the child the court should be amenable to whatever custodial arrangements they wish to make so long as full support of the parent or parent is not interrupted and so long as no rights are given to the custodian that would extinguish the child’s right to be considered legal kin within their own family.

    We need to change the law so that nobody has the right to possession and control of a child, even their own biological child. There should be no parental rights, only parental obligations arising from having put a person into a position of dependency. The dependent person then has the right to rely upon for support those who caused their dependency in the first place. Any right to remain in the existing situation should be the option of the child and with the consent of the custodian and parents and court. This arrangement would confer equal rights to all minors and equal obligations to all adults with minor offspring and no adult would be able to assert any right to possession, or control of the child that interfered with the child’s right to the care and support of both parents or their right to legal kinship with their blood relatives.

    That is fair. You are listening to hearsay as if it were gospel truth, Do you have a particular experience that you witnessed or were involved with that makes you so ready to believe the unsupported accusations of mothers over fathers? Any particular reason to believe that minors should have a positive right to familiarity over all else?

    As far as I know there is no law that requires parents to maintain familiar and unchanging environments for their children. Parents can move frequently change caregivers and boyfriends and girlfriends, get remarried and divorced and generally turn the world of their children upside down so long as they meet their basic needs and don’t neglect them. Familiarity and consistency are a goal certainly but are secondary to the primary legal requirements to support and provide care. Why would support and care by both parents take a back seat to familiarity when one parent dies? I think if you change the law to support your point it should be to grant minors the right to remain in their current living situation if the caregiver agrees and circumstances with the remaining parent warrant awarding custody to someone other than that living parent. The child should not be forced to become the legal child of the current caregiver at the expense of their rights as the child of the living parent.

    • i think you are taking a good thing too far…. all things being equal in terms of parental fitness, I prefer the biological parent as well… but i would never extend that to a second degree relative.

      • Do you mean when it’s a non-parent bio relative vs a step parent or a non-parent bio relative vs anyone?

        • I’m similarly confused

          • Because, depending on circumstances, I might sometimes favor the non-parent bio relative, and sometimes the step parent. If the step parent basically acted as parent I’d favor them unless child was old enough to decide to live elsewhere. if the step parent didn’t act like a parent, I’d favor a relative the child had a close relationship with such as a grandparent or aunt or uncle they were particularly close to. All examples assuming the parent is either dead, unfit, or incapacitated.

      • I don’t follow. What do you mean?

      • if i understand marilyn correctly, she wrote that she would prefer a relative of the biological parent, instead of the step parent.

        I would also prefer a fit biological parent over a step parent, but i would not give the same precedence to relatives of the biological parent .

        • OK so let me ask you a few questions. When a child’s parent dies they don’t stop being the child of that parent. The dead person does not cease to be a mother or father and in fact the dead person will continue to take on new kinship rolls even though they are dead because if their sister has a child they will still become either an aunt or uncle. When their child has a child they will still become a grandparent. Technically speaking what kinship roll do you see the step parent as stepping into? Do they retain their step parent title in relation to the child leaving the child’s legal identity and kinship fully undisturbed and intact? Serving as more of a guardian or custodian than adoptive parent? Would you want them to become a sole adoptive parent or would you want them to do a step parent adoption with the estranged or absent parent still paying support and if so would the birth record change to reflect the step parent’s name where their dead spouse’s name use to be? You can only play with reality so much before it becomes an outright falsehood.

          And let’s not forget that you are choosing familiarity over what the PERSON who is a minor at the moment, should have the right to: They should have the right to be legally recognized as kin within their own blood related family and should have the right to their parents care and support and death benefits and should have the right to be taken in by their own relatives if any are willing to do so. Many times relatives cannot and the children wind up in foster care. I think in that event that the family cannot care for the child the step parent would be a good option. The step parent may be familiar at the moment but I believe it was you who said that step relationships rarely outlast the relationships that created them. The step parent has no permanent ties to the child beyond emotional commitment which is a changeable thing. Even when relatives are not so hot they are still your relatives and your own family and unless they cannot take care of you or it is dangerous for them to take care of you because of actual convictions for crimes like child abuse or something I’d say the best interest of the PERSON long term is to maintain their right to be raised within their own family. If you want to say the PERSON should have the right to say they’d prefer to remain living with the step parent, I think that is fair to take that into consideration so long as that does not sever the PERSON’S legal relationships with the families of their living or deceased parent.

          • I want to just comment on the question raised in the first sentence: What happens when the child’s parent dies? Does the person stop being the parent?

            I think this reveals the importance of modifiers. When a genetic parent dies, that person does not stop being the genetic parents. They are always the genetic parent.

            But when a legal parent dies they do stop being a legal parent. A dead person cannot exercise or hold legal rights.

            Those two seem fairly cut and dried to me, but what about a social parent? When a social parent dies they do (sort of) still occupy the role of social parent. But it isn’t static. A decade after their death one might perhaps say that the deceased was a social parent but is not longer.

            This isn’t, by the way, about how we remember people. You can certainly remember a deceased legal parent as parent. It’s just that their present status is no longer that of a legal parent.

            • Well, there are rights a child has but perhaps the legal rationale is based on if the parent was legal parent at time of death. Death benefits, inheritance if there was no will, being able to sue for compensation for loss of parent if someone wrongfully caused the death.

            • “But when a legal parent dies they do stop being a legal parent. A dead person cannot exercise or hold legal rights.” Um you are wrong about dead people ceasing to be their children’s legally recognized parents. If a minor’s mother passes away the State does not issue them an amended birth record with the name of their mother whited out. If the state and federal government were to say that deceased parents were no longer legally recognized parents then it would not have to pay out social security or military death benefits to the minor children of deceased individuals. If the state and federal government were to say that deceased parents are not legally parents any longer then their children would have no right to inherit from them or from any of the relatives of the deceased parent. If the deceased parent were no longer a legal parent to their children after they died then none of their relatives would be able to obtain copies of their child’s birth marriage or death records and their child would no longer be allowed access to the vital records of their deceased parent’s relatives either.

              • I don’t think I’m wrong. It’s just complicated.

                What is on the birth certificate doesn’t change but this doesn’t mean the person is still a legal parent. (We’ve talked a lot about birth certificates and they are really complicated as things stand now. Having a name on a birth certificate does not prove that you are a legal parent, even though that is generally what birth certificates are used for. If parentage is actually at issue in a court case, producing a birth certificate won’t settle the matter.)

                What I mean when I say that a legal parent who has died is no longer a legal parent I mean that the deceased no longer has any current rights/obligations vis-à-vis the child. So they have no obligation of support, say. Their consent is not required before travel or surgery. They have no right to determine where the child goes to school. These are the rights and obligations held by legal parents but it is nonsensical to assign them to dead people.

                This doesn’t mean that the child doesn’t have rights vis-à-vis the estate of a deceased parent or that the person never was a legal parent. Even in the absence of a will a child may inherit the estate of a deceased legal parent but that’s because the person WAS a legal parent, not because they currently ARE a legal parent.

                The entitlements that you refer to are critical, but if you look at how the law operates, they do not arise because the deceased person is still a legal parent. They arise because of the relationship that existed before the person died.

                If you look instead at what the rights and obligations of a legal parent actually are, I think you will see that it is really not possible for them to be vested in someone who is no longer living. If the child has two legal parents and one of them dies, the surviving parent is the only legal parent the child has.

    • Would you contend that what is best for this child is to have the absent genetic father be a legal parent and have the present psychological father not be one? I’d surely do it the other way round–and precisely because I am concerned about the well-being of children.

      The point (to me) of this story is that we have to be able to respond to the way the world is. (I don’t mean to say we cannot talk about the ideal, but we need to face reality, too.) This story is about the way the world is. The child is 13. She doesn’t know the genetic guy. She knows he exists, mind you, but she has no social/psychological relationship with him. And she does have a relationship with a man who has played the role of father for a decade.

      Now perhaps she should meet the genetic father. This isn’t for me to say–because I’m not convinced that it is always going to be better for every thirteen year old in this situation. But that’s not the issue here. She can meet him or not. The question is should he have parental rights. At this point, for me, the answer is clear: He should not. At the same time, I think the law ought to protect her relationship with the guy who did step up.

      We can design the law to be forward looking–to specify rights in advance. But we must also realize (I think) that sometimes people just go about their lives and then the law comes in later. Then the question is to what extent does the law need to take account of how things have actually played out. And I think it needs to. I’m not sure whether you disagree or not.

      • He was in his child’s life when she was an infant and it sounds as if he is named on her birth record and that his family and friends were aware that he has a child that he is not raising or supporting. This woman likely received or still receives support payments from the state for her child because the father is not providing any support. It is her job to do everything she can to help the state obtain that support from him and if she is not doing that she is interfering with her daughter’s rights. Her daughter also has a right to contact and visitation with him whether she likes it or not. The child is a member of his family and has legally recognized kinship with them which will be important to her throughout her life not just as a child. Being his legally recognized child is critical to an entire family being legally recognized as related and terminating that relationship impacts not just the child’s rights to legal kinship but the entire families right to legal kinship. The child currently has a right to inherit from him and to receive his death benefits if he dies. If he inherits while she is a minor she’d be entitled to that money to cover his support.
        The child would actually gain nothing by being adopted by her step father and it would let the man responsible for her care, totally off the hook and it sets the tone that irresponsible parents are rewarded for abandoning their duties.

        The child gets support from the state and is entitled to her father’s benefits and to visitation with him and his family if they are willing. The mother has custody and it sounds like total control of the child he does not appear to have legal custody or decision making rights. The step father has an obligation so long as the marriage continues and he certainly is going to be bonded with this child from daily life. Turning him into an adoptive parent won’t change anything he is doing currently and it would terminate the child’s state support and all her other rights.

        I would advise the mother to tell the child that her father has a lot of problems with drugs and mental issues and that he was not responsible enough for the daily effort of raising her. Yes I’d tell her to say that he had been physically violent with the mother and that she did not personally feel safe around him though she never actually did anything about it because she did not want him to go to jail, she had empathy for him. I’d tell her to tell her kid that she does have the right to contact with him and his family but that it is up to him to make the effort to see her and that considering his history she might have to go to court to place some restrictions on the visitation if necessary. I’d tell her to tell the child that his friends and family have asked about her and seem interested in how she is that she is an important and valuable member of his family and not to feel forgotten. I’d tell her to tell her child that she will make every effort to get in contact with his relatives so that they can visit or exchange letters. She should tell her she deserves the love and attention of both her families and that she will do everything in her power to encourage a good relationship between them but won’t compromise her safety if she thinks there is a chance she’ll be harmed.

        The relationship with the step father stands on its own merits.

        • Does the daughter have a right to contact and visitation at all cost — or is her primary right the right to grow up in a safe and stable environment? Is the mother an evil witch who is keeping the child from its father, or is she a person who is doing everything she can to provide that stable, safe environment?

          • It is so twisted how ya’ll view things. All people have the right not to be abused and the right to legal protection from abuse and abusers. Can you protect a child from abuse without terminating a host of their rights that arise from their legal kinship? Her right to contact and visitation with her family is something her custodial parent has to manage in concert with an obligation to protect her from bodily harm. If the father is dangerous, pull a restraining order and get a court order for supervised visitation or visitation with certain restrictions or caveats. If he fails to show up and lets her down he fails. But her right to a relationship with both her parents should not simply be usurped permanently based on the opinions and statements of the custodial parent especially if there are no convictions, police reports, restraining orders, arrests, in the absent parent’s history to warrant such a claim. Often claims of that nature are made against fathers or mothers that have substance abuse and job problems making them not fit for daily care but not unfit to provide support or unfit to have restricted visitation. It is the kids parent like it or not good bad or indifferent, that is their parent and attempts to erase them or diminish their involvement erase or diminish the parts of the child that are similar to their absent parent.

            • The mere fact that the father is a man is abusive as far as Julie is concerned. She wants to get the man out of the picture completely, forever, or as long as the baby-owner wants.

              • I am not Julie but I can think of cases in the news where children were abused to death by parents of both genders after the other parent begged the court to not give the abuser custody. I would never trust the court to keep a child safe from abuse, just so the other bio parent stayed a legal parent. No way.

                • But we can’t eliminate abuse completely, we have to accept that there will always be abuse as a matter of human reality. I wouldn’t want a world where there was no abuse, it would be a drugged police state with no emotion or freedom.

                  • chilling statement john. we should accept abuse because we can never eliminate it fully?! if we can eliminate it for one child we must. but in your world, its only conceiving children out of wedlock that we can never never accept.

                  • I didn’t say abuse should be legal just because it can’t be completely stopped, which is what you say about intentional unmarried conception. I just said abuse can’t be eliminated and it will always be a human reality that we should accept its existence as part of our freedom and morals, along with unintentional unmarried conception. What one person might consider abuse another person might consider expressing their feelings. But of course physical abuse should be illegal and its a grounds for divorce and shouldn’t be tolerated in any amount, and the same goes for out of wedlock conception.

          • J. The mother needs a little thing called PROOF.

            • From a moral or legal viewpoint? And proof of what? You mentioned that you had been raped before. Me too. I certainly had no witnesses, and didn’t report it because I was young and scared.

              The Amy story might be purely fictional, but I certainly believe raping a woman is enough to prevent a man from having legal rights over any resulting child.

              Do you know that the very act of getting a restraining order is often extremely dangerous?

              • Yes by the time I mustered up the courage to get one in my Big City of San Francisco, you could only get them on Tuesdays and not if the abusive person resided at the same address with you. He He. Yup. I paid 100% of the rent and could not get a restraining order and the cops had come and actually stopped him from killing me with a statue thing a chatcka. It was his residence so I had to move out and go on the run and keep paying the rent. I was terrified he’d destroy the apartment and that I’d be stuck paying for it.

                I’m not saying I would not take positive legal steps to have become the sole custodial parent leaving him with no decision making power, I’m just saying I would never terminate my child’s kinship within their own family and try to assign them kinship in the family of someone happen to like better than their father. For all his flaws he would still have been their father and I would never want them to loose their kinship or support rights, nor would I ever want them to feel like I wanted to erase half of who they are as human beings. I’d never want them to feel like I would prefer them to have been the children of another man as if I’d only find them worthy of raising if I could pretend that they were someone they were not. I would not do that to a my child I’d love them for who they are exactly with no revisions to reality.

                • In some cases terminating parental rights is the only way to ensure the abuser never receives custody. You don’t seem to realize or you just don’t care.

                  • Your talking about taking away the rights of my fictional child and the rights of all their paternal relatives to the benefits of legal kinship. Whatever evidence I’d use to terminate his parental rights I’d use to obtain sole physical and legal custody and a restraining order. What about my fictional child’s kinship rights and the kinship rights of their fictional paternal relatives or don’t you care?

                    Imagine waking up without your leg and the doctor tells you they had to cut your leg off you were stuck in your car on the train tracks, the train was coming seconds to spare so they made the decision your leg or your life. So they cut off your leg without your consent. You ARE alive and the alternative to cutting off your leg would have indeed been death so it is an understandable decision as they were attempting to save your life and did indeed safe your life from certain death. messy death.

                    Imagine waking up without your leg but being told they cut it off while you were sleeping because you might (imaginary leg cancer) it runs in your family and there is a good chance you might get this rare imaginary cancer if you kept your leg and you would be less likely to get leg cancer and die if your legs were simply cut off. Better to do it before there are any cysts to biopsy do it when perfectly healthy.

                  • Yeah I care more about the safety of the kid, how awful. In some circumstances it can be easier to ensure the abusive parent never gains rights or to terminate the rights then to leave them intact but try to prevent them from having any custodial rights.

                • Rebecca you know what your extreme views remind me of? During WWII, in my State of California, they took people whose ancestors originated from one of the countries we were at war with, and they put them in internment camps. Plucked kids right out of Washington High School for instance, shut down the businesses that their parents owned and put them in jail. You wanna know why? Just in case. You know. Just in case they might be aligned with the enemy and might want to hurt someone. Just in case. Not that they had actually been charged or convicted of any crime, but because they might potentially be enemy sympathizers. So you’d terminate the kid’s rights just in case.

                  • If I knew the parent was abusive? heck yeah. Sometimes the non abusive parent witnesses the abuse. they KNOW the child is in danger. So they KNOW it happened but can’t prove it or they get a bad judge. If they find a way to ensure that person has no legal rights to the child I think they are entirely justified. There have been real cases where the non abusive parents BEGGED the courts, courts didn’t listen, result: dead child. anyone who knows the other parent is abusive and still tries to have them the legal parent is playing with fire and the child is the one most likely to suffer for it.

              • Legal. I don’t talk about morals. Julie taught me that. Morals and the word normative are a trap.

        • He may (for better or for worse) have been a part of the child’s life at one point. I have no idea about the support and I don’t quite no why you’re making the assumption you do. Would it matter to you if instead the step-father and mother were supporting the child without aid from anyone else?

          If support is the key question (which I’m not at all sure it is) than there may be really good reasons to make the step-father the legal father. This would give him a continuing support obligation–no matter what happened to his relationship with the mother–and he might be the more responsible of the two men–more likely to pay the support.

          But to me, support isn’t the key question and anyway, as I’ve said before, I’m willing to have an obligation imposed on the genetic father without giving him any parental rights. (I know most people balk at that idea.)

          The key thing to me is that we aren’t making a decision at the time the child is two or three or four (at which point perhaps she had a relationship with the genetic father, even if it wasn’t a good one). We’re making it a decade later. The child’s world is as it is.

          We agree, I think, about a lot of what the child should be told (though I would leave the actual decisions and the details here up to her mother, since I haven’t a clue about the child’s level of maturity etc.) The question for me is whether the absent genetic father should have the legal rights of a parent. That means the right to participate in making important decisions for the child. And for me, the answer is clearly no. It would be disruptive to the actual existing family the child lives with to include him.

  3. A step parent should have the legal standing similar to a relative, to apply for custody in the event of the death of the parent. in most locales they don’t. if there are competing applications, the court should decide on a best interest basis.
    however unless an adoption has been completed, the step parent’s status should not be upgraded to parent just automatically.

    • and in order to be considered a step parent for these purposes, the step parent should have to be legally married to the parent, or civilly unioned, according to what is available in their locale. or at the very least there should be a minimum time period in which they have been fucntioning as parent- and it should be along one.

  4. with regard to the specific story, I don’t know that the advice to adopt is correct. Amy is 13; don’t children have a say in adoption at age 14? and the time to adopt is not as Amy is grieving the abandonment by her biological father. to me that seems to minimize her loss. of course everyone is different though.

    • I think the mother is lying. She says her child’s father has not been in her life since she was a baby. Meaning the last time he was around their daughter was an infant. She says that he never paid child support.

      She says he told his family and friends that she was dead.

      If that were true it would mean he had some level of contact with her as an infant and that his family and friends are aware of her and are concerned about her. So positive note that the child has paternal relatives who want to know where she is and how she is and how to get in contact with her. I very much doubt he told them she’d died. She heard that he said this? From whom? Did she call his parents or siblings and did they gasp in surprise to learn their granddaughter and niece were alive and well? Did someone contact her looking for their niece or sister saying they heard that she was dead? Really she was raped? Honest? Because as wrong as I think it is not to record people as the parents of their own children regardless of how they were conceived No state shares my opinion and Men are not named father’s of children they conceived in an act of rape. Was he convicted or even charged with rape? Was there a trial? What about this violence? Was he convicted or charged with any of that? Why isn’t this mother fighting for child support? Why isn’t she working with his relatives to make sure that her daughter feels as loved and wanted as possible by her own family despite any negligence on the part of the father. What is she judging the content of his character on 13 years later? I think she’s lying.

      his friends and family are aware that he has a child and have inquired after her and want to know how she is.

      • for all we know the entire letter is fictional. i think its the principles that are most important, not the exact details.
        I disagree with you about rape.
        First of all, numerous criminals of all sorts go free because there must be evidence beyond reasonable doubt in order to convict. Rape especially is very hard to prove. The fact that someone was not convicted does not mean he did not rape. In fact many rapes are never even reported in the first place.
        Rape is a violent crime. Rapists are dangerous people. No woman should ever be expected to put herself and/or her child in danger, which is what contact with the rapist or his relatives may mean.
        If the father actually wanted to be in contact, this would have to go to court obviously but if he doesn’t, than its really up to the mother.
        This reminds me of the idiotic statutory rape DNA testing that Julie posted about not long ago- does the state not care that they are possibly putting the woman at risk by trying to go after the rapist?

        • Hey Ki in case you think you’re talking to a woman who has never experienced the kind of rape you’re referring to – guess again. Been raped and did not report it. By a boyfriend who got me pregnant many times who ultimately called me up at work and told me it was my fault he was dead and proceeded to shoot himself in the temple with a box of my photos and letters in his lap while I was on the phone with him. He was very violent.

          So seeing as I am the very kind of woman that you are referring to, still I cannot allow that to color my views on what is just and what is not. It is not appropriate for a child to be denied their right to membership within their own family just because their father happens to be a violent a-hole. Too many rights are lost in the name of protecting them when there are numerous avenues to achieve legal protection from parents who are violent or unfit that don’t terminate the child’s right to support or inheritance or legal kinship with their father’s relatives.

          Also there are plenty of people that break all kinds of laws without getting caught, without it ever being reported. In fairness to all people and in the best interest of society in general we must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone did indeed commit a crime before we punish them for it. Certainly a person should not be punished or loose any rights because of their parents crimes. Yet that is what happens all the time with kids that have crappy parents.

          A person with offspring is a parent with obligations no matter what the law says; the law cannot end a relationship that the law itself did not create, the best the law can do is agree to lie about it. So do you really think that Mothers ought to have the legal authority to play judge jury and executioner when it comes to whether or not their children get to be legal members of their father’s families? Desperate times call for desperate measures and if a woman must break the law to protect her child then so be it I’ll even help her. But to actually have the law set up to function around a guilty unless the Mom says otherwise framework is just an abomination of justice in general.

          • if that guy would have stayed alive I would have thought you were very foolish if you tried to maintain contact with him and people associated with him.
            It’s sad for the kid to have a criminal dad, but would it be better to have a dead mother??? is that any more just in your opinion?
            this being said I’m sorry to hear about this horrible experience. glad you made it out safely. very wise of you not to carry the pregnancy to term.

            • K, your comment provoked another thought for me. Marilynn — do I have this correct? You think abortion is a perfectly acceptable means of preventing a complicated situation between a child and a criminal, dangerous bio father? But you think it would not be acceptable to avoid contact between that same father and child if the child is not aborted?

              • J.
                I chose not to have children at that particular time in my life. There were times when that choice was made for me such as ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage and ovarian cysts. If I’d had children with that boyfriend they would have been his children. Certainly they would have had a right to be a member of his family and a right to his Social Security death benefits when he shot himself. Certainly they would have had a right to inherit from his family as well and to all the other rights that arise from their kinship to his family. I would certainly have had grounds for a restraining order or supervised visitation restrictions.

                I could perfectly well protect my child against contact with him or undue influence by him without trying to pretend that he was not their father. It would be my responsibility to figure out a way to protect them without compromising their rights in any way. If I had no other person waiting in the wings as a partner to step-adopt our child I would have had sole custody but he’d still be legally their father named on their birth record and they’d have rights to all kinds things from that. Why would I want them to loose those rights and they’d gain absolutely nothing out of that deal? If they had a step parent, they’d gain 0 from being adopted by them and they’d loose a ton of rights. I see nothing good for the child in that situation. Step adoption is done to feed the ego of the custodial parent and punish the non-custodial one. The child is a tool in that situation its so wrong.

                • you could certainly protect yourself and your child against a man who is mentally unstable, has a gun, and has committed a violent crime against you in the past? well maybe you are superwoman but most of us aren’t.
                  And not saying you have to lie or pretend to your child about anything, just that pursuing a relationship, especially when he doesn’t even want one, seems rather reckless to me, and not just or ethical.

                  • Agree with Ki on this one.

                  • I wouldn’t ever seek out an abusive parent and trust the courts to protect the child. There have been cases of mothers and fathers begging the courts to protect the child from the abusive other parent, court refused, child ended up dead.

                  • Kisarita you are talking about the physical safety of me and my child. What possible protection would we gain from terminating my child’s legal right to support or legal right to inherit or legal right to other benefits of kinship within the father’s family? We’d still need a restraining order. We’d still need to prove that we knew him, and that he’d been charged with some kind of physical abuse or threats in order to keep him away regardless whether his name is on the birth record as father or not. We would achieve the same level of physical protection by filing a restraining order either way – he could violate it and kill us both just because he’s dangerous. So how would saying he’s not my child’s father help us in an emergency when he is attacking us? I just don’t see how denying my child their rights helps physically protect either of us. It all seems punitive to me. If he does not want a relationship with his child it does not change the fact that he is my child’s father and his relatives are also my child’s relatives. What protection do you think women gain from this? They do it to make a statement, to emotionally put distance between him and them but it is not real distance. Ultimately I’ve seen over and over again that the mother ends up pissing her kids off because they did not need their identity changed in order to protect themselves from their father.

                  • Because if parental rights are terminated, a judge no longer has any legal power to give that person any kind of custody. There have been cases where the non abusive parent who knew from witnessing abuse tried very hard to get supervised visits only, sole custody, etc, and failed, the abusive parent convinced the judge to have the child(ren) alone and the kids ended up seriously hurt or even dead. If parental rights are terminated, there is no longer ANY legal possibility of the abuser having custody.

              • since i made that statement let me respond; i believe that abortion to prevent bringing a child into the world who will likely be abused, to be a noble act. but unlike marilyn i also believe that its a noble act to prevent contact from the abuser after the child is born, only that its a lot harder to ensure as rebecca pointed out. you cannot place all your trust in the courts. by abuse i mean real abuse, not “i don’t like him.”

                • Which Ki is when sometimes people are just going to break the law. The law that is balanced and fair. If the law is balanced and fair sometimes a mother will break the law to protect her child if she knows it needs to be done. Sometimes an abuser will break the law and violate an order and come hurt people anyway. But I don’t want to live in a country that sets its laws up to be unfair to anyone based on off chances and possibilities.

                  The way Rebecca describes it in order to be fair (but it is still not fair) would be to have men not be legal parents at all because we just don’t trust them. Women are the only legal parents and then if they feel like letting their children know their fathers then fine but their children are not entitled to be legal members of their father’s families. Their children are not entitled to their father’s financial support, not entitled to their benefits. These rights are clearly not important to Rebecca because she has already dismissed them for her own children and does not want to believe that it is inappropriate for a mother to compromise those rights.

                  There are ‘cross that bridge when I come to it’ parents who would violate the rights of their children in order to keep them all to themselves. They don’t take their responsibility seriously to cooperate with the other parent to give their child all that they deserve and have a right to. They think that when their child comes to them in 20 years and says “how could you have done this to me” that they can look at them and explain that what they did was because they were so wanted and their child will either accept it or not – at least they’ll have their child. They’ll have a resentful child though. If they say there was no other way there better have been no other way.

                  • Actually sometimes the abuser is the mother. When an abusive parent’s absence gives some legal ground to have their rights terminated or never named as the legal parent in the first place (the second could only apply to a father, but the first example could apply to both a mother or father), I think the non-abusive parent is fully justified in taking that route rather than insisting the other parent be a legal parent and seeking child support which then makes it possible for the abuser to have a legal claim to custody.

                  • Rebecca if a parent has no grounds to achieve supervised visitation what kind of grounds will they have for requesting that the other parent’s parental obligations be terminated? The child would be just as protected in a situation where the mother had sople physical and legal custody and say restricted visitation like at the jail, as the kid would be loosing their kinship rights.

      • You are, of course, entitled to your opinion but I’m sort of stunned that you’d so confidently conclude that the mother is lying. I’m particularly disturbed by your dismissal of her assertion that she was raped. There are far too many reasons why rapes aren’t reported or prosecuted but it doesn’t mean they didn’t happen.

        As Kisrita says, the letter may be entirely fictional–I don’t really care. I suppose to me the story seems plausible–a possible scenario we ought to think about. I guess what you are saying is that you don’t believe this ever happens. And about that, as about so much else, we just disagree.

        • Julie have you ever considered that you run with the guilty until proven innocent method of punitive damages more often than not? It does not seem to matter to you whether a man was convicted or even charged with a crime. You need no more proof than an accusation. Let’s do away with the whole fact finding and evidence thing in every area of law then. If it is good enough for these fathers than it is good enough for all of us in all situations. Anyone accused of something is simply guilty and then punished for crimes whether or not they committed them because the important thing here is to believe whatever anyone says because they would not say it if it were not true. Right?

          While we are at it you seem to also be of the mind set that we should determine a child’s living situation based upon familiarity alone even though familiarity and consistency are not the right of a child or person. You would sacrifice someone’s actual rights permanently not just in childhood in favor of familiarity and consistency which is not in fact their right at all. You never never seem to think that a person looses anything in the process of legally severing their kinship to a bio parent but they do. I have outlined over and over and over again enumerated the concrete loss of legal rights – not supposed rights that are nebulous like “the right to know where they came from” or the right to know “who they are” but real concrete legal rights. You’d sacrifice not just the child’s legal rights but the rights of an entire family to information that impacts them and their ability to make decisions about their own health. They had a right to a person’s vital records until that person was adopted out of their family.

          • there’s two possible scenarios. one scenario is that the case actually winds up in court. in that case, of course the court must consider evidence and not decide that a parent is unfit merely on the other parents say so. There’s a whole other level in which the case never even reaches a court because the unfit parent is so deadbeat and has no interest in going there. the court has no role to play in this scenario, its all whatever the parent decides. And my two cents would be not to remind him that you exist.

            • So don’t remind him that you exist by taking him to court to terminate his parenthood and have your new boyfriend adopt the kid you have with him. Just quietly go about your lives with your kids rights and kinship fully intact and you don’t disrupt the rights of the kid or the kid’s paternal relatives.

              • good point marilyn. you have me thinking about this.
                presumably any move by the step father to adopt would require the bio-dad be notified. is that correct?
                if he’s been gone for 12 years does that automatically disqualify the need to notify him? perhaps it should, but how is a court to accept that he has been absent for 12 years? just on the mother’s say so? and how do we know it was voluntary?

                • ahhh. That’s better.

                  I know plenty of people that will tell you how their step-parents have done more for them than their dead-beat absent parent ever did for them, but not one of them would be down to have their name changed and no longer be considered a legal member of both their own family and a legal step member of their step family. None of them would like to not be legally considered the sibling of his other kids.

                  I just don’t really see that ending a person’s kinship in their paternal family will keep them physically safe if their father goes psycho. If one parent has sole physical custody it is the same almost as a restraining order they can’t just waltz in and take their kid and go it all has to be approved by the custodial parent and the courts – and that is when there is no physical threat, they just are not the custodial parent.

                  • Courts have gotten it wrong as a result children have ended up dead. TPR does guarantee the abuser can NEVER legally be given custody. To me that’s quite a benefit.

          • I don’t have any idea what the guy is really like. He may be fine. I understand that. To me the key thing is that it’s ten years later and he hasn’t been around at all.

            It is basically true, as you say, that I favor familiarity, although I wouldn’t say it like that. What I’d say is a bit more substantive. The research I’ve seen suggests that it is vitally important to the well-being of children that their primary connections with those who are psychological parents be preserved and respected (unless it can be show that those connections are unhealthy ones). The family this child knows–and has known for a long time–consists of two psychological parents–her mother and her step-father. If the law recognizes the genetic father (who has no existing psychological relationship with the child) as a legal parent instead of the step-father than this disrupts the existing structure in a rather major way. Suddenly the genetic father is the co-decision maker. I don’t think the law should do that.

            • For a family law attorney you sure don’t seem to acknowledge that a person can be a legal parent without decision making power. Women and men both can have sole physical and legal custody of their children without removing the non-custodial parent’s name from the birth record and without terminating the person’s legal kinship or the benefits that arise from legal kinship. This is true for their right to support and death benefits and their right to the vital records of their relatives, their relatives right to their records and of course inheritance. Being a legal parent has implications that extend into other areas of life besides day to day care-giving and none of your opinions take that into consideration. Its as if people are eternally children to you – little islands without connections to anyone but the people raising them.

        • If you actually cared about consistency you’d care about a child having rights consistent with that of other citizens and you would figure out a way for the child to obtain what they need from a willing step parent without having to sever their ties to their own family just because their parent happens not to be performing his or her duties.

    • I think children are often consulted about adoption if they are able to express an opinion, though their opinion may not be determinative. I don’t suppose I know nearly enough to give advice here, but from a law perspective there could be very important reasons to do the adoption (entitlement to survivor benefits, say, or giving the husband/step-father some clear continuing right to parent) that need not also deny whatever significance the child attaches to the absent genetic parent. After all, I don’t see any problem with having a step-parent adopt where a genetic parent has died and where the step-parent has a siginifcant social/psychological relationship with the child. I think it can enhance security which, for many children, is a good thing.

      • Some state statutes require the adoptee’s consent if the the adoptee is over a certain age – I can’t remember if it’s 12+ 13+ 14+ but somewhere in the young teens.

      • there might be good reasons to adopt but pushing for adoption exactly at the time the daughter is seeking her biofather, seems to be sending the wrong message, that she’s somehow wrong for doing this.

      • I’d like to give you some reasons why adopting a step child whose genetic parent has passed is not in the best interests of the step-child and then I’d like your feed back please. For each reason I give I’d also like to know if you had ever contemplated that particular legal drawback experienced by people who are adopted. Suffer through it – read a paragraph a week to get through it but answer please I want your response as I don’t think you have considered these things when forming your current opinion.

        “but from a law perspective there could be very important reasons to do the adoption (entitlement to survivor benefits…”

        Your legal dependents according to your State and Federal returns qualify for your Social Security and Military death qualifies for your Social Security or Military death benefits and this of course would include your spouse’s children supported by your joint marital income. If they were in a state of permanent dependency, they would receive benefits the rest of their lives and if they were in a state of temporary dependency such as a minor their benefits would stop at the age of 18. If their absent parent were to also die after you die, they would also receive their deceased absent parent’s Social Security death benefits until the age of 18. If their present custodial parent were to die after you die they would similarly receive that person’s Social Security and Military death benefits until the age of 18. I’m thinking you all went to a party together and drove into the same tree. So to be specific and clear, you don’t need to adopt your step child in order for them to receive your survivor benefits and if you do adopt them they will LOOSE THEIR EXISTING LEGAL RIGHT to survivor benefits of their absent parent, so being adopted it is a net LOSS for the adopted minor.

        Step-children can be added to your employer’s medical and dental policies just like your children and employers who actually pay for your dependents on those policies (find me one they are rare) cannot exclude your dependent coverage just because they are a step child and not your actual child. If you have medical but no dental and their absent parent has dental insurance, your step child can be added to your medical policy and their absent Father’s dental policy. If you adopt your step-child, they can no longer be added to their absent parent’s medical and dental policies. So to be specific and clear, you don’t need to adopt your step child in order for them to be added to your medical and dental policies and if you do adopt them they will LOOSE THEIR EXISTING RIGHT to be added to the policies of their absent parent, so being adopted is a net LOSS for the adopted minor.

        Do the math and all adopted people loose something in order to gain something, and it is just a stupid system. They loose their legal kinship within their own families which is unfair and ridiculous because it is not their fault that their parent was unable to care for them and the loss of legal kinship punishes them and their entire family for someone else’s failures to meet their legal obligations. Step adopted people have an especially stupid kind of loss since what they gain in terms of benefits from their new adopted parent are things they already had rights to as their legal step child. At least adoption by someone other than a parents spouse is necessary to qualify to be added to their dental insurance, not so with a step parent. Being adopted means they loose their existing right to the vital records of their family members and their family members loose their rights to the adopted relatives as well – how is that for unfair and stupid? The adopted person looses their right to be considered next of kin for inheritance purposes. A step-relative, like a step-sibling, can claim a step-relative as a dependent on their tax returns, and have the dependent step-relative get their survivor benefits but an adopted person cannot do the same thing with their own blood relatives if they are in reunion. They also can’t take time off for a funeral or family leave act time off for their own blood relative but could for their step relatives.

        A step parent is a legal guardian and can enroll the step child in school, soccer team, take them to the doctor etc etc and sign as their step parent and authorized legal guardian as they are performing care giving tasks under the direction of their spouse who is the child’s parent. As long as they are married and their spouse is living there is no problem.

        People have wills where they state who they want their children to live with in the event of their untimely demise that are not blood relatives such as a best friend or god parent and courts honor those wishes I’m sure so long as nobody in the family fights them for custody. I’d imagine courts might consider the deceased parent’s wishes and attempt to work out some sort of joint custody. If it came down to the child going into foster care or being adopted by a total stranger I bet the step parent would be on the top of the list of people to become a guardian.

        Julie, because of the unfortunate way the law is currently written, adopted people have to loose rights within their own families in order to gain rights within their adoptive families. All adopted people suffer a horrible and permanent loss of rights. All families who have lost members to adoption suffer a horrible and permanent loss of rights. It is not necessary, we could change the laws and allow them to retain their rights within their families despite having been adopted and gaining rights within their adoptive families. Until then adoption of a person should only occur as an absolute last resort because of the enormous loss of rights for the adopted person and every member of the adopted person’s family. Step-parent adoption offers the step-child nothing he or she does not already have through their legal step-child status. It is done to honor and reward the good step-parent with the title of parent because they are doing all or most of the work and it is done to distance the the custodial parent and child from any emotional/psychological connection to the absent parent. It is done to punish the absent parent. It is done to shun them. The title of parent is not an award for the person who works the hardest. It is an assignment of obligation to the people who caused the dependency.

        I’m all for security and stability. No adult or child has a positive right to security, stability or familiarity, but they do have permanent rights to to various benefits of kinship and lets not though out the rights for concepts that are at best goals for a pleasant childhood. We would not take a child away from a parent who moved around alot or changed boyfriends like underpants. Nobody has to promise an unchanging and constant landscape for a child, its just a preference and something to strive for. Rights should be inalienable.

        • I’m really not going to go through this point by point–life is too short. But I have two comments that, while they may not satisfy you, are at least pertinent.

          1. I think the right/benefits that flow via step-parents probably vary a good deal based on circumstances (like employer) and state to state. I think (but do not know for sure) that most would end were the parent/spouse to die because the whole idea of step-parenthood is based on your relationship with the spouse/parent. (In other words, if mother dies, step-father no longer is step-father because step-father is no longer married to mother.)

          But all of this is a little beside the point to me. I think it could all be rearranged so that the step-parent’s benefits were available to the child and I would still make my point. That’s because this isn’t really primarily about the material benefits (and so perhaps I was wrong to even raise them).

          The key thing for me is tied to what Amy said in her letter: In this case (if we take it to be true) the step-father is the “real” father–the person who has played the social/psychological/emotional role of parent to this child for the vast majority of the child’s life. One might even be able to say, the only person the child has ever known in that role. This being the case, the relationship between the man and the child is crucial to the child’s well-being. The child should not be at risk of losing a psychological parent because the law is too inflexible. If the law doesn’t automatically protect that relationship (via some sort of de facto parent doctrine), then at least people ought to think seriously about taking affirmative steps to protect it–and that might well mean adoption.

          2. I think you are right that, as currently constructed, a child gains something and loses something when they are adopted. They lose the legal parental relationship with the original legal parents and they gain the legal parental relationship with the new parents. In any given case this might be a bad thing or a good thing. That depends on the circumstances.

          But there are important things you can do to improve the balance between what is gained and what is lost. Losing the legal relationship with the original legal parents doesn’t have to mean losing all contact with them. That’s the whole idea of open adoption. And it doesn’t even have to mean losing all legal relationship with them. One could have (though we do not) a legal status for the original legal parents without having them be legal parents.

  5. Julie, have you written about this yet? (I don’t think so?):

    I’d like to hear your thoughts.

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