Monday, July 30, 2007

Case Law Development: Florida Supreme Court Requires Adoption Agencies to Notify Unmarried Biological Fathers of Paternity Registry

In a decision that clarified a number of issues that had split the Florida appellate courts, the Florida Supreme Court has held that an unmarried father's parental rights may not be terminated based solely on failure to register in the putative father registry. "We hold that the rights of an unmarried biological father in relation to the child, who is known or identified by the mother as the potential father and who is locatable by diligent search, may be terminated based on his failure to file a claim with the Florida Putative Father Registry only if the father was served with notice under section 63.062(3)(a), Florida Statutes (2005), and he fails to comply with the requirements of that subsection within the thirty-day period."

The court did not eliminate the requirement that unmarried father's register in order to prevent the termination of parental rights.  "The entire statutory scheme would be frustrated, including the interest in prompt adoption proceedings, if an unmarried biological father could avoid having his parental rights terminated prior to an adoption, even though he failed to comply with the requirements of section 63.062(2). In fact, section 63.054(1) contemplates that the termination of parental rights proceedings will operate against unmarried biological fathers in order to promote finality and certainty by providing that an unmarried biological father must file a claim of paternity with the Registry."

However, the court went on to analyze the notice an adoption agency must provide an unmarried biological father before the statutory registration requirement attaches.  The court's statutory interpretation side-stepped constitutional challenges to the paternity registry.

The court noted that registration alone is insufficient to prevent termination of parental rights of unmarried fathers.  The fathers must also file an affidavit of commitment in the court in order to establish and preserve his right to be made a party to any proceeding to terminate parental rights and to establish that his consent is required to the proposed adoption.

Heart of Adoptions v. J.A., Florida Supreme Court (July 12, 2007)
Opinion online (last visited July 27, 2007 bgf)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/family_law/2007/07/case-law-deve-1.html

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