Saturday, February 15, 2014

Utah Proposes Legislation to Establish an Interstate Compact to Share Putative Father Registry Information

On February 10, 2014, Utah Senator Luz Robles introduced Senate Bill 63 to establish an interstate compact to share putative father registry information.  The proposed legislation is likely a response to several recent court cases in Utah, where women from other states gave birth and placed their children for adoption in Utah, without the knowledge or consent of the biological father.  

Currently, 34 states have a putative father registry.  Putative father registries allow biological fathers to preserve their rights by filing a claim with a state registry if they believe that they have fathered a child.  If the biological mother makes an adoption plan, a biological father who has registered with the state's registry would be entitled to notification of the adoption, enabling him to participate in the adoption, default on the petition, or pursue his paternal rights at or before the adoption hearing.   Problems arise, however, when a birth mother chooses to place the child for adoption with an adoptive parent located in a different state.  The number of interstate adoptions has risen dramatically in recent years due to the internet and social media.  In an interstate adoption, a birth father's rights can be thwarted even if he filed with the registry in the state where the child was conceived.  In such cases, a search of the registry in the state where the child is born would not identify any claims by the child's biological father and the adoption may proceed without any notice to the biological father. 

Under the proposed legislation, other states, even those that do not currently have a putative father registry, could pass legislation to join the compact.  As a party to the compact, upon request, a state must provide information in its putative father registry to other states who are a party to the compact in a timely manner.  Disclosure would be subject to the laws of the requesting party state regarding privacy, retention, and authorized uses of the information, but if the requesting party does not have a putative father registry, the disclosure would be subject to the laws of the supplying state. Disclosure, however, would not affect the application of the requesting party's laws, such as those regarding adoption and protection of putative father's rights, except as explicitly provided by the requesting party's laws.  Moreover, failure to provide accurate and timely information would not impact the application of the requesting party's laws, unless explicitly provided in such party's laws.

A national registry or interstate compact that would allow states to share paternity claim filings would go a long way to protecting the rights of birth fathers and providing stability to the adoption process. Birth fathers would no longer have to register their paternity claims with multiple states to ensure that they receive notification of a potential adoption.  It would also prevent birth mothers or even adoptive parents from forum shopping and choosing to finalize in another state for the purpose of avoiding notice to a birth father of a planned adoption and thus, preventing him from intervening in the process. It would also protect potential adoptive parents from expensive and often delayed legal challenges that could result in a disrupted adoption.  Attempts at creating a national putative father registry, however, have failed, prompting Utah to take action to address the problems inherent with the existing registry process at the state-wide level.   

The prospect of an interstate compact to share putative father registry information is an interesting development.  Reportedly, lawmakers in Arizona and Nevada are proposing similar legislation.  While an interstate compact would be better than the status quo, with several states now contemplating the sharing of registry information, perhaps now is the time for a renewed effort to pass federal legislation addressing the issue.

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