Adoption Is Great . . . Except for Some

Adoption, for most people, is a time of celebration.  A time to welcome a child into their home and a time to expand their family.  It is a wonderful avenue to establish and solidify rights to a child outside of a child custody proceeding.  But what happens if a biological father, who would have wanted the child, did not know of a child’s existence prior to an adoption proceeding?  The answer is, as it is in most cases, it depends.

North Carolina adoption statutes set out the mechanism regarding how adoptions take place, who can adopt, and most importantly, whose consent is required for an adoption to go through. 

Generally, in order to adopt a minor child, one of two things needs to happen: (1) the parental rights of the biological parents need to be terminated by a Court or (2) a consent to the adoption by the biological parents are needed.  It is the consent aspect of North Carolina law being focused on that leads to interesting, and at times, heart wrenching litigation.

In answering the question of whose consent is required, we must focus on putative fathers as mothers obviously know if they gave birth to a child.  A putative father may not be aware of the existence of the child should he not be living with the mother or if there are no facts to suggest that he should have known that the child existed.

Under the adoption statutes and current case law, a father’s consent to the adoption is not required if prior to the filing of the adoption petition he did not perform one of the enumerated requirements such as: provide for the mother and/or the child during the term of the pregnancy or after the term of the pregnancy, visited with or attempted to visit with the mother and/or the minor child at issue, or communicate or attempt to communicate with the mother or the child.  This leads back into the question: What if the father did not know of the pregnancy either through not being told or by the fact being concealed by the mother?

Unfortunately for putative fathers, that does not matter in the State of North Carolina.  The case truly rests on a factual determination of what a putative father has done for the mother and/or for the child prior to the filing of an adoption petition.

Here is a real world example:  Father and Mother are living together unmarried.  The Mother becomes pregnant but is in the early stages of pregnancy.  Mother does not inform Father of the pregnancy.  Mother and Father end the relationship prior to any signs of pregnancy emerging and cease living together. Mother now lives two states away and later gives birth.  A Couple who cannot have children are seeking to adopt a child.  Mother is willing to give the child to Couple.  Father has no idea of this but is later served with the Adoption Petition in North Carolina as he is the putative Father.  What happens?

The outcome is based upon whether the father did any of the enumerated actions within the Adoption statutes to the satisfaction of a Court.  The fact he was never informed is irrelevant according to current North Carolina law. Even in a scenario where a putative father inquires about a pregnancy and a mother falsely informs the father that she is not, is irrelevant.

If a father cannot prove that he in fact performed tasks under the enumerated list within the Adoption laws to the satisfaction of the Court, his consent is not required.  A father whose consent is not required will have his parental rights terminated upon the entry of the adoption decree.

Please contact our attorneys at Law Firm Carolinas if you have questions about adoptions and your rights. Do not delay as any passage of time may impact your legal rights.