What If You Unknowingly Fathered a Child?

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“How many people have ever heard of the Putative Father Registry?” I ask this every semester when I teach my family law class at Syracuse University. No one ever raises a hand. Only blank stares.

“What about deadbeat dads? Ever heard of them?” Students nod, self-satisfied in their recognition. I move to my next question.

“This one is for the men. Have you ever revealed to the government the name of every woman you’ve ever had sex with?” This is met with complete silence, confused looks, nervous smiles. As one young woman muttered under her breath, this may sound like “some dystopian shit.”

But it’s not. Since the 1970s, 33 states have created Putative Father Registries, designed as a way to link unmarried men to the mother of their child. States expect men to report—voluntarily and honestly—information about all their sexual partners; otherwise, they forfeit their right to be contacted if a partner pursues adoption. The registry is not a petition for custody or a determination of paternity—only a right to notification. Without registry, the wishes of the biological father are irrelevant.

Consider the case of Chris Carlton, a veteran whose girlfriend, Shalonda Brown, put their baby up for adoption without his consent. The couple first met in Pennsylvania, and after Brown got pregnant, the two lost contact. Carlton worked as a military contractor, and his employer transferred him to Afghanistan. While abroad, Brown reached out to Carlton to inform him that she had a baby boy in Utah who died shortly after birth. Upon his return home, he discovered that the child was actually alive, female, and adopted.

This situation could have been prevented if Carlton had registered as a putative father in Utah. Registration would have linked his name to Brown’s, and he likely would have been notified of the adoption. Even if Brown willfully withheld Carlton’s name at delivery and adoption, the state would have known his identity.

State governments see this as the simple solution to the logistical problem of keeping track of unwed fathers. The Supreme Court agrees—in 1983, it ruled in Lehr v. Robertson that registering is as easy as “mailing a postcard.” Most states also have free registration, so cost shouldn’t prohibit any man from participating. So when a man fails to register and subsequently loses a child, courts uniformly respond, “Your loss.”

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What are your thoughts about Putative Father Registry So have you ever thought that maybe you had a child out there that you didn’t know about? If you did how would you feel if the woman gave that child up for adoption without your consent?

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  • Bree

    I think this is a great thing. More men should be made aware of it in fact. I have several male friends who get treated unfairly and their rights abused as a result of the biased and unfair legal system regarding child support and visitation.
    I’m a huge supporter of men’s rights when it comes to child support and visitation. I personally know too many great men and wonderful fathers who get taken advantage and lose the right to see their child/children, as well as their hard earned money. Fair is fair, right is right, and wrong is wrong, regardless of who does it.
    It’s very unfair and dead wrong when women take a mans money, yet take away his rights to his child/children. The horrible child support situations I’ve witnessed are not worth it and should not be. Not to mention, these women have no idea how adversely this affects their children. These situations need to be handled in a much more mature and peaceful fashion, if for no other reason than for the sake of the children caught in the middle of the mess.

    • Gray

      I have male friends who feel victimized and the reality is they do nothing about it. Shying away from the courts to take legal action or simply not wanting to interact with the mother of their kid places them in an acceptable position, IMO. I have Male friends, and family to whom I’ve helped and coaxed into getting child support and visitation granted only for them to not appear in court, settle for something less, or do nothing. If men don’t stand up for their rights they will continue to be slighted.

      Right now my nephew is going through it with this crazy woman, and he won’t listen.

  • Gray

    While this could be beneficial in the scenario described, I don’t feel most will participate with this registry that’s virtually unknown. When it comes to USA it never ceases to amaze me with just how un-united States, Laws, & Governings differ. No person should be able to adopt out a child without full consent of both parents, unless a woman was raped or truly didn’t know correct or full name of the father.