Va. Joins Ranks of States With Registry for Possible Fathers

By Michael Felberbaum
Associated Press
Monday, August 6, 2007; 2:51 PM

RICHMOND (AP) -- Barbara Jones has seen them hundreds of times -- newspaper ads featuring the name of a mother seeking the father of the child she's ready to put up for adoption.

It is one of the last steps before a mother can legally give her child away without the father's permission ¿ a burden that Jones, a longtime adoption attorney, said is ineffective and one most new mothers could live without.

"You expose this mother who maybe sacrificed a lot to carry this pregnancy because she didn't want to abort the baby and now her name's in the paper," the Fairfax County attorney said.

That burden is shifting.

Virginia has joined about three dozen states that have developed registries designed to identify potential fathers and make it their option to take part in parental decision-making.

"Before this registry we were totally dependent on the veracity of the birth mother," Jones said. "This way the balance of protection is phenomenal because any man that wants to know whether there's a child ... merely protects his right by registering."

Men who have been sexually active with someone who they are not married to are required to register if they want to know if the potential child is being put up for adoption or if the mother is looking to terminate the father's parental rights.

In Virginia, a possible father has 10 days from the child's birth to register, though there are other circumstances in which that timeframe differs.

The registry, which was enacted July 1, will help expedite some of Virginia's 2,500 adoptions a year, said Pamela Fitzgerald Cooper, acting adoption program manager for state Department of Social Services.

To register, men are asked to fill out a one-page form or register online with the social services department. The form asks for information such as Social Security numbers, ethnicity and information on where and when they may have conceived a child.

Cooper said men have begun using the registry but couldn't say how many have registered, citing privacy laws.

Registering does not establish paternity, which is a separate legal process, but failure to register means that the potential father waives his parental rights.

"The objective of giving men their rights as fathers is genuinely important in the adoption world. We've spent an awful lot of time separating men from fatherhood," said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in Massachusetts.

But Pertman said, however well-intentioned, the problem with the registries is that most people don't know they exist.

"It is not a natural course of people's human instincts to go sign up every time they have sex," said Pertman, author of the book "Adoption Nation." "If the intent is to engage and empower fathers, so far I don't see the evidence that that's happening."

Pertman suggested that there could be a benefit with a well-advertised national registry, an idea being floated by U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. The bill, first introduced in 2006, awaits action from the Finance Committee.

While the registries shift the responsibility to the possible father, it also protects their rights, said state Sen. Jay O'Brien, the patron of the Virginia legislation, which resulted from a state adoption study.

"The fundamental issue about the registry is that it protects the privacy of a birth mother at a very, very stressful time for many of them," said O'Brien, R-Clifton. "At the same time it protects the paternity interests of the father."

O'Brien said the new law means that no adoption attorney can proceed without checking the registry and a birth mother can't go anywhere in Virginia to get an adoption if the possible father is registered.

© 2007 The Associated Press