Avery recently learned a hard lesson. Unmarried birth
fathers must be very quick and very aggressive in asserting
paternity rights to a newborn child or they will have no say
if the birth mother puts the child up for adoption.
situation has national ramifications considering that most young
people are sexually active by the time they turn 18 years old.
More than 35 percent of all children born in 2004 had unmarried
his girlfriend, Kristine Anderson, while they were both enrolled
in high school in North Carolina. The relationship
resulted in an unplanned pregnancy in the summer of 2002.
2003, Kristine gave birth to a baby girl. A few days
later, she filed a petition in court asking for permission to
put the baby up for adoption even though Michael did not
consent. Michael filed a response, insisting that he
should have some role in deciding the fate of his daughter.
hearing focused on whether Michael had complied with the
requirements of a North Carolina statute. The law in that
state makes the consent of an unwed father unnecessary when a
child is placed for adoption, unless the father has provided
“in accordance with his
financial means, reasonable and consistent payments for the
support of the biological mother during or after the term of
established that Michael had made offers of financial support to
Kristine on several occasions but the offers were refused.
Michael's mother also invited Kristine to come and live in the
Avery household but that offer was rejected as well.
Kristine's father refused to accept a letter that Michael
brought to the Anderson house, in which Michael
expressed his willingness to provide ongoing support for the
Court of North Carolina ruled that such offers of support were not
sufficient to give Michael any paternity rights.
that Michael was the undisputed biological father of the baby
and that he offered support on several occasions. Never
mind that his offers were rejected by Kristine. Forget the
fact that Michael protested the adoption as soon as Kristine
filed a lawsuit seeking court permission to give the baby up
without the birth father's consent.
Supreme Court indicated that it wanted a "bright line" rule that
required significant financial payments made for the benefit of
the baby or mother. Clear-cut, black and white
requirements would rule the day; no gray areas allowed.
The right of a young man to raise his own child or for a child
to be raised by her own biological father apparently were
insignificant matters to the court in contrast to the need for
automated cookie-cutter justice.
Mary Martin Mason, author of
Out of the Shadows:
Birthfathers' Stories, believes that unmarried birth
fathers such as Michael Avery are misunderstood by society.
She laments the fact that unwed dads are routinely pushed out of
the picture without regard to the ultimate emotional and
psychological damage which can be done to the child as well as
the biological father.
So what is an
unmarried man to do if he wants to protect his parenting rights
without being ignored or pushed away by the birth mother or the
Unfortunately, despite the desire of the North Carolina Supreme
Court to have a "bright line" rule in unwed parenting cases, the
rules will vary from state to state. What an unmarried dad
does in one state to protect his rights may not be sufficient to
protect his rights in other states.
Assuming that the
unwed father-to-be is aware that his girlfriend or sexual
partner is pregnant, he should take immediate steps to establish
paternity. He should also provide financial support,
according to his ability, for the benefit of baby and mother,
both before and after the child is born.
If the mother
rejects offers of support, the man should open a bank account in
trust for the child and make regular deposits into that account.
Some states have a "putative father registry" where a man can
register his claim to be an unwed father. All states have
some procedure where an unmarried man can initiate a proceeding
to establish paternity.
Unmarried birth fathers need to
be aggressive in asserting their parenting rights. When it
comes to establishing or forfeiting a life-long bond with a
child, an impending or recent birth is not a time for an
unmarried man to be timid.
Unmarried America 2006
Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an
attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family
diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.
Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried
firstname.lastname@example.org. Unmarried America is a nonprofit
information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and