Can an Unmarried Father Prevent an Adoption?

There was a time – not all that long ago – when having a child out of wedlock happened only by accident, not by choice.  Today, approximately 40 percent of all children born in the United States are born to unwed parents and many of those are by choice, not by “accident.” If you are the biological father of a recently born or yet to be born child, what rights do you have if the mother wants to put the child up for adoption? A Murfreesboro family court lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby discusses whether an unmarried biological father can prevent an adoption in Tennessee.

Adoption Basics

The adoption process in Tennessee is a lengthy and rigorous process. The entire process must go through the family court system to ensure that the rights of everyone involved are protected and that the child ends up in a stable and nurturing home. A crucial part of the adoption process is the termination of parental rights. Although there are exceptions, usually the parental rights of both parents must be legally terminated before an adoption can be approved by the court. Sometimes that occurs through the state if the child was the victim of abuse or neglect. Parents may also voluntarily relinquish their parental rights to facilitate an adoption. This is accomplished by signing a consent to adoption. What happens, however, if you believe you are the father of a child and you do not agree to the adoption? The answer depends on several factors.

When Does a Father Have to Agree to an Adoption?

Whether you must consent to the adoption of a child you believe to be your biological child depends primarily on your legal status at the time of the adoption. You must relinquish your parental rights by giving your consent to an adoption if you are:

  • The child’s legal parent, meaning you are married to the mother or you were married to the mother within 300 days of the child’s birth.
  • You were declared to be the father of the child by the adoption court after the filing of the petition to adopt but before the adoption is finalized.
  • You are the child’s putative biological father.

What Is a “Putative” Biological Father?

If you are not currently married to the mother and were not married to her within 300 days of the child’s birth, you must establish paternity before you have the right to object to an adoption. The legal term for a man who believes himself to be the biological father of a child born out of wedlock, but who has not yet legally established paternity, is a “putative” father. Like most states, Tennessee has a “Putative Father Registry.” Administered by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, the Putative Father Registry allows supposed biological fathers without legal connection to a child to register information about themselves, the mother and the child so they can be notified about possible future adoption proceedings. Adding themselves to the list serves as a “notice of intent” to claim paternity of a child. The listing also contains the names of persons identified on orders of parentage, or acknowledgements of parentage, received in the Division of Vital Records, Department of Health. 

In short, once you have registered with the Putative Father Registry, you are legally required to receive notice if the child is the subject of an adoption proceeding. If you are notified, and you object to the adoption, you should consult with an experienced family court lawyer immediately to discuss your legal options.

Contact a Murfreesboro Family Court Lawyer

If you have additional questions about your right to object to an adoption as the biological father of a child in Tennessee, it is important that you consult with an experienced Murfreesboro family court lawyer to ensure that your rights are protected. Contact the team at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.

Dinah Michael