In the decades since 1960, out-of-wedlock births have increased dramatically.
While much research on childbearing trends and the characteristics of unwed
mothers exists, very little is known about putative fathers, the alleged or
reputed father of a child born out-of-wedlock. However, there is an expanding
population of putative fathers who wish to play a role in their children's
upbringing. Consequently, their legal rights have become increasingly
Putative fathers have had fewer rights with
regard to their children than either unwed mothers or married parents. Over
the past several decades, putative fathers have used the Fourteenth Amendment
to challenge the termination of their parental rights when the birth mother
relinquishes their child for adoption. Nevertheless, States have almost
complete discretion to determine the rights a putative father must receive at
proceedings to terminate parental rights or adoption proceedings.
Supreme Court has protected a putative father's right to constitutional
protection of his parental rights when he has established a substantial
relationship with his child. The Court defined a substantial relationship as
the existence of a biological link between the child and putative father, and
the father's commitment to the responsibilities of parenthood by participating
in the child's upbringing.1
Several critical concerns, however, have been
unresolved by the Court. For instance, when an infant is placed for adoption
at birth, the putative father can have no more than a biological link to his
child; he never received an opportunity to develop a substantial relationship
with his child. The Court has yet to rule on what this putative father must do
to protect his parental rights. Consequently, there is a lack of uniformity
among States as to the level of protection available to unwed fathers.2
Putative Father Registries
all jurisdictions, putative fathers are entitled to notice of proceedings to
terminate parental rights or adoption proceedings. States generally require a
putative father to register on the putative father registry or acknowledge
paternity within a certain time frame in order to receive notice of such
21 States have statutes authorizing the establishment of putative father
registries. Several States, however, only mandate by law that a putative
father file a notice of his paternity claim within a certain period of time.
Failure to register or file may preclude the right to notice of termination or
Information Included in Registries
States differ in the information they maintain
in their registries. Among the information required by the various States is:
- Name, address, social security number and
date of birth of putative father and birth mother
- Name and address of any person adjudicated
by a court to be the father
- Child's name and date of birth or expected
month and year of birth
- Registration date
- Other information deemed necessary.
Revocation of and Access to Information
Approximately 15 States allow putative fathers
to revoke a notice of intent to claim paternity.5
Of these States, many require that the putative father submit a signed,
notarized written statement. While some States allow revocation of information
at anytime, revocation is effective only after the child's birth in some
Access to information maintained in registries
also varies from State to State. Many jurisdictions permit certain persons
access to registry records. In general, these are people with a direct
interest in a case. Typically, persons entitled to access include:
- Birth mothers
- Licensed adoption agencies
- Prospective adoptive parents
- Any other person upon a court order for good
Stanley v. Illinois, 405
U.S. 645 (1972); Quilloin v. Walcott, 434 U.S. 246 (1978); Caban v.
Mohammed, 441 U.S. 380 (1979); Lehr v. Robertson, 463 U.S. 248
2 This summary is limited to a putative father's right to notice of
adoption or termination proceedings when the child is relinquished for
adoption at birth or shortly thereafter.
3 Situations in which the birth mother and putative father reside
in different States may be complicated by the variability in State adoption
law regarding putative father registration or acknowledgement.
4 The word approximately is used to stress the fact that
statutes are constantly being revised and updated.
5 This summary does not include statutes addressing voluntary
declaration of paternity requirements.
Statutes-At-A-Glance are products
summarizing State adoption laws prepared by the National Adoption Information
Clearinghouse. The Clearinghouse is a service of the Children's Bureau,
Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Administration for Children
and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Statutes-At-A-Glance listings summarize
specific sections of each State's code. While every attempt has been made to
be as complete as possible, additional information on these topics may be in
other sections of a State's code as well as in agency regulations, case law,
and informal practices and procedures. Readers interested in interpretation of
specific statutory provisions within an individual jurisdiction should consult
with professionals within the State familiar with the statutes'
Resource: National Adoption Information
chart by state