February 6, 2014 by Don Hubin, Chair, Executive Committee, National Parents Organization of Ohio
By a 77-14 vote, the Ohio House passed a bill (HB 307) designed to ease adoptions in Ohio. Unfortunately, HB 307 not only doesn’t adequately protect the rights of birth parents, it significantly curtails the rights that birth parents currently have in Ohio.
Children deserve loving parents and adoption is often the best option. But children deserve first to be raised by their biological parents if those parents are fit and willing. Streamlining the process for adopting newborns is not necessary to ensure that all newborns who are put up for adoption find good homes. There is already more demand than supply for healthy newborn adoptees. And streamlining the adoption process in ways that curtail the rights of biological parents to raise their children is wrong. HB 307 is a flawed bill.
There are a number of changes that HB 307 will make if it were passed by the Ohio Senate and signed by the Governor in its present form.
To understand the changes that adversely affect the ability of birth fathers to be able to raise their children, one needs to understand Ohio’s Putative Father Registry law. A putative father is a man who is named as a father out of wedlock, but for whom paternity has not been legally established. In order for an unmarried biological father (also called a ‘birth father’) to prevent his child from being adopted, he must register with the Ohio Putative Father Registry, either online or in writing. This system provides weak protection for the interests of unmarried birth fathers because, while there are provisions for birth mothers to notify the father that a child was or will be born, there is no requirement that birth mothers do so. Birth fathers who would wish to protect their right to raise their children are often unaware of the fact that they are birth fathers. Failure to register as a putative father within 30 days of the birth of a child constitutes irrevocable implied consent to an adoption.
The change proposed in HB 307 that is most troubling for Ohio’s birth fathers is a dramatic shortening of the time that fathers can register with the Ohio Putative Father Registry in order to preserve their right to consent or refuse to consent to their child’s adoption. HB 307 would shorten the current 30-days-from-birth time period to a mere 7 days, when the birth father has not been given a pre-birth notification. In those cases where the mother has provided a pre-notification to the birth father, he would have just 30 days after receiving the notification to register. Such notification is not required and experts say that most mothers who want to put their children up for adoption will not notify the biological father. The effect of this bill, then, would be to radically shorten the time when a biological father could step forward and prevent an adoption so that he could raise his child himself.
The existence of two different time-frames for registering as a putative father—one for those who receive a pre-birth notification and one for those who don’t—raises several issues. Judge Kenneth Spicer (Delaware County) voiced concerns about whether it would survive a constitutional challenge because it creates two classes of birth fathers and treats them differently without a sound legal basis for doing so. And Molly Rampe Thomas, founder of Choices Network in Columbus, which works to assist birth mothers and to protect the rights of birth parents, says, “it makes it really confusing and could potentially take away a birth father’s right to consent to the adoption before the child is even born.”
The law also chops the time period during which an adoption decree can be challenged in court from one year to 60-days. So, if there are legal improprieties in the adoption process, biological parents, both mothers and fathers, wanting to challenge the process will be required to move very quickly to preserve their rights.
The Ohio House has passed the bill. What now?
There is currently a similar bill in the Ohio Senate, SB 250, which does not include the reduction in the time for birth fathers to register with the Putative Father Registry. It does, though, include the shortening of the period for appealing an adoption from one year to 60 days. Conversations with senators’ aids revealed that there is a possible substitute bill for SB 250 that might be introduced, but there is no word yet on whether it will be designed to match HB 307’s curtailment of birth fathers’ rights.
When the biological parents of a child are unfit or unwilling to raise their child, adoption is often a wonderful alternative—giving the child the best chance at a good, loving home and the adoptive parents the joy that might otherwise be denied them, of raising a child. Easing the adoption process is desirable, provided the rights of the birth parents are protected.
National Parents Organization is working to try to ensure that the Senate does not pass a bill that curtails the rights of birth fathers to rear their own children. If we are unsuccessful in stopping this in the legislature, we will appeal to Governor John Kasich to veto the bill when it comes to his desk.
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
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Putative, Adoption, Ohio, Birth parents, Birth father