Not knowing the law cost him his son. Now he wants other men in his situation to be informed.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The sources in this story are local to Idaho Falls, however, their names have been changed due to the sensitive nature of the topic.
IDAHO FALLS — Tammy and David were recently surprised to find out they were grandparents — and that wasn’t the only shock.
They also learned that their grandbaby, who they had never met, had already been adopted and they were distraught to learn that there is a law in place that makes this type of adoption acceptable.
Tammy and David’s son, Ryan, and his ex-girlfriend, Jane, were teenagers when Jane got pregnant.
But Ryan never knew about the pregnancy. Jane moved away from eastern Idaho, stopped communicating with Ryan, and delivered the baby in another state. The baby boy was seven months old before Jane told Ryan about the pregnancy. But by then the baby had already been adopted by an out-of-state family.
“I was really shocked. … I have no contact with him or his parents (who adopted him),” Ryan said. “I don’t want him to think I didn’t care and that I’m one of those dads that left after I found out I have a baby.”
Ryan feels like his rights were stolen because he said the baby was kept a secret from him. But by the time he found out he had a child, legally it was too late for him to get parental rights.
The parental rights of fathers have historically been tied to their being married to the baby’s mother at the time of childbirth, the Child Welfare Information Gateway explains. The organization reports that the percentage of births to unmarried mothers has increased from 4% of total U.S. births in 1950 to more than 40% each year since 2008.
Michael Carney, an assistant clinical professor at the University of Idaho College of Law in Boise, said the law throughout the United States is that an unmarried woman — regardless of age — doesn’t have to notify the unmarried father she had a sexual relationship with that she’s pregnant, or putting the baby up for adoption or having an abortion.
“Most parents don’t even know about this law, so I don’t know how teenagers would know about it,” Ryan said.
There have been efforts by some states to require father notification, and there have even been two U.S. Supreme Court cases about it, but Carney said ultimately, father notification was deemed “unconstitutional” and an “undue burden on women under the decision in Roe v. Wade.”
“It comes down to the idea of a women’s right to choose what happens with their body,” Carney said. “A man is on notice if he has sexual relations with a woman that one of the things that could occur is pregnancy. The burden is then on him, if he wants to be able to be a father, for sure, he has to take some steps to ensure that.”
Carney said for fathers to make sure they have rights to their child, they must register with the state on the putative father registry and they also have to file a petition for paternity in court. This all needs to be done preferably before the child is born or prior to the child being put up for adoption.
“They have to do something before their parental rights are terminated,” Carney explained. “Once the parental rights are terminated, which is what occurs in an adoption, it’s over. There’s no going back.”
Ryan hopes other men who might find themselves in similar situations will learn from his experience. Tammy, David and Ryan all hope to one day see the law changed and a verbal requirement of father notification put in place.