When someone learns they will soon be a father they may have a mixture of emotions. The joy of a baby's impending arrival may be tempered by a challenging relationship with the baby's mother. If the relationship with the baby's mother has soured, a father-to-be may have real fears about his rights to the unborn child.
The old belief that a child should always be with its mother has been largely cast aside in recent years as more and more fathers have demonstrated that they can be strong, devoted and caring parents to their children. More and more, courts are recognizing father's rights to parent their children.
Father's Interests in Unborn Children
While frustrating, a father's rights to his unborn child is very limited until the child is born.
Before a child is born, there are three primary areas that may concern a father. They are as follows:
- Preventing or requiring an abortion
- Establishing paternity
- Preventing an adoption
Each of these three interests are treated in unique ways in Virginia.
When it comes to abortion, the law is clear. Father's have no legal rights to either prevent an abortion or to force a mother to submit to one. The mother alone has the right to choose whether to abort the child. The U.S. Supreme Court determined that a woman's right to have an abortion is not outweighed by a father's desire to prevent it. A woman is not even required to notify the father that she is having an abortion.
Additionally, fathers may face a hard road when it comes to establishing paternity before the baby is born. In Virginia, there are two primary means of establishing paternity, either by a written acknowledgement of paternity signed by both the father and the mother or by a genetic test.
Genetic testing to establish paternity is generally established after a baby is born, however technology has made it possible to determine paternity before the birth. While the technology exists, a court cannot force a woman to submit to such testing without her consent before the birth of the baby.
Until the baby is born, a father's rights are limited to requesting a paternity test. This can be important to know if there are rights that the father needs to assert, such as an interest in an adoption proceeding.
While the expecting father cannot do much in terms of an abortion or determining paternity, the a father does have rights to their unborn child when it comes to adoption. In Virginia, the father cannot stop the mother from beginning the adoption proceedings before the child is born, but the father must consent to or be given adequate notice of the adoption for the child to be adopted.
Virginia's Putative Father Registry
One of the ways Virginia protects the interests of unwed fathers is through the Putative Father Registry. The Putative Father Registry was established in 2007. It is designed to give a child's biological father notice of and the opportunity to object to an adoption or a proceeding to terminate parental rights.
While this database is a step in the right direction for fathers, it still has some problems. The time limits for registering and for the opportunity to object are very short. With a few exceptions, a father generally is required to register as a speculative parent to a child within 10 days of the child being born in order to protect his rights to object to an adoption.
If you have received notice that may limit your parental rights or you are simply a father-to-be concerned about protecting your parental rights, you should speak with an experienced Fairfax family law attorney to discuss your options and protect your interests.