Pending before the United States Supreme Court is a case nicknamed after a young girl that two families are fighting for. “Baby Jessica” lived with her adoptive parents for two years before they suddenly lost custody. The biological father, despite having signed away his parental rights prior to the adoption, gained custody of a child he’d never met due to a federal law offering special considerations for cases involving children of Native Americans. The biological mother is now inadvertently excluded from the daughter she thought she sent to a better life. Although uncommon, this case highlights how dangerous adoption proceedings can be.
State law is no different. Arizona law attempts to balance the rights of mothers, fathers, and the adoptive parents. Arizona adoption laws are highly technical, however, and the slightest mistakes can result in an irreversible and unintended result. For example, in anticipation of an adoption, biological fathers are often sent a “notice of potential birth father” from birth mothers or their attorneys. This can be as simple as a single page, can be mailed to father as young as 15 years old, and is effective even without his parents knowing. Failure to timely respond within 30 days can result in the permanent and irreversible exclusion of that father from the adoption proceeding. This result is extremely harsh, because it bars a father from objecting to the adoption – even months before the birth occurs. Fathers have an obligation to respond within 30 days and must take additional steps if they object to the adoption. Filing a paternity action is one such step, and can be done before the birth of the child. Registering with the putative father registry is another, but likewise has a short timeframe. In other words, don’t wait to consult an adoption attorney until it is too late.
Adoption proceedings are extremely emotional for all parties involved. Adoptive parents need to have finality and assurance that their adoption was handled correctly. Both biological parents and birth parents need to assert their rights to avoid unintended consequences.