The Ohio Putative Father Registry–the WHAT?

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Published Date Written by Erik L. Smith

I am a single man. Yet I had been in Ohio for over a year before hearing of the Ohio Putative Father Registry, and then only in a Probate Law class. The professor was covering how a child could be adopted without the birth father's consent. "ORC 3701.061: A man who has sexual intercourse with a woman is on notice that if a child is born as a result and the man is the putative father, the child may be adopted without his consent pursuant to division (B) of section 3107 of the Revised Code." That section required the man sign the Putative Father Registry within thirty days after the birth to get notice of the adoption.

 

 

"Does that mean that to ensure full protection of his rights, an unwed man must sign the registry every time he has sex with a new partner?" I asked the Professor.

 

"Yes," the professor said.

 

"Well, what if the woman doesn't tell him about the pregnancy, or rejects him?"

 

The professor's retort was immediate. "Then he's stupid." I recalled a wrestler I knew in college who documented all the women he had slept with. His friends thought that was stupid. But maybe he was just ahead of his time. I had some signing up to do. Tomorrow, I would register with the Ohio Putative Father Registry.

 

But where? Where was this "Putative Father Registry?" Perhaps the statutes would tell me. R.C. 3107.065:

 

"Not later than ninety days after the effective date of this section, the director of job and family services shall...[e]stablish a campaign to promote awareness of the putative father registry. The campaign shall include informational materials about the registry."

 

Easiest then would be to contact the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. All I had at the moment was the number for the south Columbus office. But that office should know the number for the registry. I dialed. A woman answered.

 

"Job and Family Services."

 

"Yes, I'm trying to find the address or phone number to the Ohio Putative Father Registry?"

 

"The what?"

Page Break

 

"Putative father registry."

 

"What's that?"

"The office where a man can register if he thinks he may have fathered a child."

 

"Just a minute."

 

Another woman came on. "Yes, how can I help you?"

 

"Do you have the number for the Putative Father Registry?"

 

"The what?"

 

I stayed polite. "It's where an unwed father can register so that he gets notice of an adoption involving his child. Actually, if you just give me the number to your main office–"

 

"–Oh, no, you need ‘child support.' Their number is...."

 

I hung up and called information.

 

"What city please?"

 

"Columbus."

 

"What listing?"

 

"The Ohio Putative Father Registry."

 

"The what?"

 

"Putative father registry."

 

"How do you spell it?"

 

"P-U-T-A-T-I-V-E father registry."

 

"Oh, ‘T,'" she said, and went silent for a minute. Then: "I don't find any listing, sir."

 

"Are you sure?"

 

"There's no listing."

Page Break

 

"Okay." I hung up and got on the Internet and found a search link to the ODJFS website. "Find key documents," the mini-ad read. I clicked on it and was at the ODJFS home page. Two minutes later I found "Frequently Asked Questions."

 

Q: I've seen stories about...kids whose parents later get them back. Could this happen if I choose to adopt?

 

A: The Ohio Putative Father Registry... is a way by which a man who feels he might have fathered a child can establish his right to be notified of adoption-related hearings. His registration...entitles him to such notification whether or not the birthmother names him as the biological father. A man may register anytime prior to the birth of the child but must register no later than thirty days after the birth. When a birthmother decides to voluntarily relinquish her parental rights, the adoption agency and the court must consult this registry to see if any man has claimed he is the biological father.... If a man does not register with the Ohio Putative Father Registry within the given time frames... his rights are permanently severed and he cannot come forward and successfully disrupt an adoptive placement.

 

This was serious. The ODJFS and adoption agencies obviously relied on the registry heavily. So the contact and form information must be on the site too. But I couldn't find it. Apparently, the putative father registration form was not a "key document." Or maybe I didn't search well enough? Or should I contact ODJFS? I clicked on the "e-mail us" link and sent ODJFS a message asking it to tell me where I could find the registration form and the informational materials. I didn't intend just to wait for ODJFS' reply. I searched the Internet again and found it. A hotline number: 888-313-3100. Well, that wasn't too painful. I would call tomorrow from work. Meanwhile I researched the case law.

 

The landmark precedent was Lehr v. Robertson (1983), 463 U.S. 248. There, the pregnant, unwed mother left the putative father and married another man who, two years later, adopted the child. The biological father had known about the pregnancy, but never got notice of the adoption. He also did not know about New York's putative father registry. The U.S. Supreme Court held that the biological father had not needed notice of the adoption because biology offered a father an exclusive opportunity to develop a relationship with his offspring, and that a registry allowed the biological father to grasp that opportunity. Lehr at 262. Otherwise, the constitution did not require giving notice to a father who could have protected his own interest. Id.

 

The theory struck me as odd. Not wrong, just one-sided. Were children just opportunities for their father's to grasp? Didn't a child have a right to his father's input if timely obtainable? In any case, what had befallen Jonathan Lehr would not befall me. I was ready to grasp my opportunity.

 

At work the next morning I realized I had not brought the phone number with me. I tried information again.

 

"What city please?"

Page Break

 

"Columbus."

 

"What listing?"

 

"The Office of the Ohio Putative Father Registry."

 

"The what?"

 

"Putative father registry. P-U-T-A-T-I-V-E."

 

"Here's your number, sir." A machine voice: "...Area Code 6-1-4-4-6-6-9-2-7-4."

 

Son of a gun, it was listed. What magical buzzword had I not used last time that had worked this time? I dialed the number. A woman answered.

 

"Ohio Putative Father Registry."

 

"Yes, I need a registration form."

 

"Are you representing the mother or the father?"

 

"The father."

 

She offered to mail the form to me, but when I realized the office was downtown, as I was, I told her I would pick it up.

 

Arriving there, I found the facility was only five blocks from my apartment. I entered the building, marked by no sign, and approached the front desk, at which a guard was stationed.

 

"May I help you?" the guard asked.

 

"Yes, I'm looking for the putative father registry."

 

"The what?"

 

"Putative father registry."

 

"I think you have the wrong place, sir."

 

"Are you sure? I called their office and they gave me this address."

 

"What is it you're looking for again?"

 

"The putative father registry. P-U-T-A-T-I-V-E."

Page Break

 

He called upstairs. "Yes, someone's here looking for the punitive father registry." A pause. "Okay, I'll tell him." The guard hung up. "Yes, sir, it's on the third floor. Now when you come out of the elevator..." He proceeded to give me directions that were impossible to follow without having the building's original floor plan.

 

The elevator doors opened on the third floor and I found myself looking at a long blank wall. Both directions led to large, open office areas with makeshift work cubicles. I went left and saw a sign, "adoptions." I proceeded into the large office area, figuring soon to see a sign for the "Putative Father Registry." No such luck. I realized the reason for some of the confusion I had encountered. The registry, and whatever "department" it fell under, had recently moved here. I approached the only person I saw, a man working at a larger table in front.

 

"Excuse me, I'm looking for the Putative Father Registry Office."

 

"Hmm," he drawled, "yes–that's across the hall, on the other side of this floor. Go back past the elevators and you'll see a front desk. Ask the person at the desk for ‘G_____.'"

 

I found the front desk easily. But no G_____, or anyone else. I waited. It wasn't lunchtime, so someone should be back soon. But for ten minutes, no one came, though workers occasionally scurried by, too busy apparently to ask if I needed assistance. After five more minutes I decided to look for the person or office myself and ventured gingerly through the maze of office dividers. I heard a sound and peeked around a barrier. The woman at the desk looked busy.

 

"Excuse me," I said, "can you direct me to the Putative Father Registry?"

 

"Yes, you need to speak to Ms. F_____. Follow me." She led me deeper into the maze of offices until we came to a cubicle where three women were standing. "Ms. F_____, this man's looking for the Putative Father Registry."

 

Ms. F_____ smiled at me. "Yes, what's your name?" I hesitated. Didn't every putative father have a right to the registration form without giving his name? In truth, I felt slightly embarrassed. I could only imagine a seventeen-year-old doing this.

 

"I'm Erik Smith."

 

"Oh, yes. Come with me, I have to copy the form for you. You're representing the father, right?"

 

"Yes." I suddenly got it. She thought I was a lawyer. Was I the first man in the history of Ohio to walk in and actually ask to sign the putative father registry? She grabbed a document from a bin and we walked to the copier. I sat in a nearby chair. "Say," I remarked as she made copies, "the guard on first floor didn't even know this office existed." She chuckled. I wondered if a judge would accept that as an excuse for belated registration ("The guard told me the office wasn't there, your honor.") Ms. F_____ finished copying, put the form and another loose page in a file, and handed it to me. Then she gave me a pamphlet entitled DON'T BE LEFT OUT OF THE PICTURE.

Page Break

 

I thought, this must be the "informational materials" required by R.C. 3701.065. Information of little value to me now that I had gotten this far. I tried to remember if it was Sartre who said that giving the Nobel Prize for literature was like throwing a lifesaver to a man after he had already swum ashore.

 

But I had my form. I went to the library, made four copies, and returned to work. I would wait until the weekend to fill the forms out. I had time. Besides, I had to look up the girls' addresses. I didn't know them by heart.

 

That Sunday evening, I started filling out the forms. I used a separate form for each potential mother. The form was easy. First came my name, address, and phone number, then the mother's information. Further down was the return address. Very convenient. East State Street. I addressed the envelopes before filling out the rest of the form.

 

But I couldn't finish the forms today. They had to be notarized. I couldn't find a notary on Sunday. What if a putative father's thirtieth day fell on Sunday and he couldn't file the form sooner? Fortunately, I did not have such a time crunch.

 

Something else struck me as odd. The notary line read: "___ day of _______, 19__." Had the forms not been updated in three years? I changed the "19" to "20" and initialized it.

 

On Tuesday, at work, I had the form notarized. I slid the four forms into one large envelope and cast a final glance at the address. I was about to seal the envelope when–

 

I had put the wrong address on the envelope! Or had I? I looked at the address I had written. It was the return address printed on the form and in the attached instructions. East State Street. But I had obtained the form from 255 East Main. So the forms must be mailed there. The address on the form, like the jurat date, hadn't been updated. Yet if the correct address was not the address on the form, ODHS would have updated the form. So maybe the form was supposed to go to a central office on State Street? Well, it probably didn't matter. If I sent the form to the wrong address, that office would forward the form to the correct address. Right? In a timely fashion? What if the guard sorted the mail? I decided I wouldn't take the risk.

 

I then recalled that Ms. F_____ had stuck a loose page in the folder. Looking in the folder, I found a flyer: "We've moved!!!! Please address your mail to: Ohio Putative Father Registry 255 E. Main St, 3rd Floor Columbus, Ohio 43215-5222." Thank god I hadn't lost or discarded the flyer. But I was still cautious. Why would the Putative Father Registry Office design a whole new flyer, make multiple copies of it, then leave it unattached to the form–instead of just updating the form? There had to be a reason. I called the Registry. A woman other than my beloved Ms. F___ answered.

 

"Ohio Putative Father Registry."

Page Break

 

"Yes, I'm about to mail in the father's form to you, could you please confirm the address?"

 

"It's 255 East Main. We've moved. The forms haven't been updated."

 

"Okay, thank you." That was settled. That night I made out a new envelope and mailed it. It had taken me longer than expected to get the forms filled out and mailed. But I went to bed feeling good that I had grasped my opportunities. I needed do nothing more until my next sexual encounter. Then registering would be easier because I had a blank form and knew the address. I could do it all by mail. From here on out I would never need even converse with anyone from the Putative Father Registry Office.

 

She called me two days later.

 

"Law Office, this is Erik."

 

"Yes, Erik, this is Ms. F_____ from the Putative Father Registry Office."

 

"Yes, Ms. F_____, how are you?"

 

"I received your forms."

 

"Great!"

 

"But I'm a little confused."

 

"About what?"

 

"You listed yourself as the father on the forms."

 

"Yes?"

 

"You‘re supposed to put the father's name on the forms."

 

"I am the father."

 

"Are you saying you got all four of these women pregnant?"

 

"Well, no. I haven‘t confirmed any pregnancy."

 

"Then why are you signing the registry?"

 

"The statute requires me too."

 

"Okay," she simply said, and hung up.

 

She must not know about the statute, I concluded. Well, R.C. 3701.061 was an obscure statute. I searched my memory for other areas of law where a potential respondent had to ensure his own notice of a lawsuit that probably would not happen. 

Page Break

I then had a truly absurd thought: what if every unwed man signed the Putative Father Registry every time he might have fathered a child? We could hardly condemn such responsible action. But how would it affect society? At the very least it would vastly expand the Office of the Ohio Putative Father Registry. Paralegals like myself could go full-time into the putative father registration form business. Just send us the completed form and we'll do the rest. We'll even help you fill it out and get it notarized. Total confidentiality. Charge five bucks per form. Wow! And if we successfully lobbied for a federal registry, the sky would be the limit!

 

But that was for another day. For now, my initiation with the Putative Father Registry was complete. I would not be one of the "stupid" fathers. I had grasped my opportunity. No one would ever find me guilty of abandonment solely for not filing with the Ohio Putative Father Registry. I would get notice of any adoption-related proceeding involving my child. Even if mom lied!

 

But wait. What if mom placed the child for adoption in another state–no one would search the Ohio registry! Would it be abandonment if I had not registered in the state where the adoption petition was filed, yet had signed the registry in Ohio, where I believed a potential adoption would take place? Yes. Because no one would search the Ohio Registry! Good lord, what good was grasping one's opportunity if the opportunity could run away after one grasped it? Ignorance of the law was no excuse. But was I supposed to know the laws of other states? I had more work to do. I got out of bed and searched the Internet.

 

At least twenty-one states had putative father registries. Of those, at least four had an ignorance-of-the-pregnancy-is-no-excuse statute: Minnesota, Arizona, Texas, and Ohio. Well, it would be overkill to send my forms to those states. Or would it? Why wouldn't a woman suffering from an unwanted pregnancy decide to visit Aunt Minnie in Scottsdale? Or go for the paid room and expense deal down in Texas? I'd start with Minnesota. Of the three states, it was the closest to Ohio.

 

I searched the Internet and found it. The form was on line and didn‘t need to be notarized. I could print it, fill it out, and mail it in. The address was on the form. If I did not receive a confirmation letter in two weeks, I was to call 888-345-1726. Kudos! I began filling it out. Better safe than sorry. Although, from this day on, I would be revealing my entire sexual history to four–and maybe someday fifty–government workers across the United States.

 

I was feeling cocky. Yet annoyed. I still had received no response to my E-mail to ODJFS. So I wrote to them, asking them what they had done to comply with the promotion statute. I didn't suppose they were obligated to tell me. But I was curious. After all, I lived in the capitol, less than a mile from Ohio's legislative building, in fact, and I had never seen Putative Father Registry promotional materials outside the registry itself.

Page Break

 

I imagined myself taking over the job. How would I promote the Ohio Putative Father Registry? I naturally would ask high schools to teach about the Registry in health classes. If we could teach boys how to use condoms, we could surely teach them how to grasp their opportunities when the condom didn't work. I would leave pamphlets at post offices and public libraries. Or post placards downtown depicting the Governor pointing a finger at the passerby: "The Ohio Putative Father Registry wants you." I would definitely have a service announcement, aired during Ohio State football games:

 

INT.– PARTY – NIGHT: Awesome Jock heads out of a party with Susie Cheerleader. Before Awesome Jock reaches the door, Buddy stops him. "Here, A.J., you'd better take this." With a wink, Buddy hands Awesome Jock a putative father registry form. FRIENDS DON'T LET FRIENDS BE LEFT OUT.

 

If mandatory draft registration was common knowledge to young men, the Putative Father Registry could be common knowledge to them too.

 

A few days later, I received my confirmation from the Ohio Putative Father Registry. I felt embarrassed reading the girls' names in the letter. But this was my proof. The letter's last sentence read: "Should you have additional questions concerning the Registry, please contact ODJFS at 1-888-313-3100, or in Columbus, (614) 728-9659." Nice. Though I wondered why ODJFS had not told me this in response to my earlier e-mail or letter. To date, they still have not replied.

 

As a paralegal, I have my hypothetical, worst case scenarios. I imagine being arrested for inadvertently giving legal advice. Or having a client's suit dismissed because I overlooked an important case. Or losing a client's file after taking it home to review over the weekend. Since registering with the Ohio Putative Father Registry, however, another nightmare has taken over: A wounded G.I. has just returned from Operation Desert Sandblast to learn that he had gotten his fiance pregnant, but that she had married another man who adopted his child. His lawyer counsels him: "Everyone appreciates you for risking your life for our country–and getting your arm blown off–but about your child, well–I wish we could help you, but unfortunately you didn't sign the putative father registry."

 

And I hear the G.I. give his completely predictable response, while mentally clutching his Purple Heart:

 

"The what?"

The Ohio Putative Father Registry–the WHAT?

I am a single man. Yet I had been in Ohio for over a year before hearing of the Ohio Putative Father Registry, and then only in a Probate Law class. The professor was covering how a child could be adopted without the birth father's consent. "ORC 3701.061: A man who has sexual intercourse with a woman is on notice that if a child is born as a result and the man is the putative father, the child may be adopted without his consent pursuant to division (B) of section 3107 of the Revised Code." That section required the man sign the Putative Father Registry within thirty days after the birth to get notice of the adoption.

 

Ohio Putative Father Registry: The Basics

Unwed fathers are entitled to notice of petitions to adopt their biological children. Yet many fathers lose this right by not registering timely with the Ohio putative father registry (PFR).1R.C. 3107.062. Because adoptions are probate proceedings, lawyers practicing juvenile, domestic relations, or traditional probate law may not understand how the Ohio PFR applies.  At initial consultations then, attorneys may omit counseling fathers about the registry and refer them to attorneys with more specialized experience. But the strict registration deadline, and often unknown deadline date, demand that the father register immediately. Thus the attorney should consider counseling the client about the PFR and help him register that day before referring him. This article gives the information needed to do that.

Preventing Your Infant Child From Being Adopted Without Your Consent

Summary

Consult an adoption law or family law attorney. Otherwise: An unwed father has no absolute right to veto an adoption. You must take action to preserve your rights. Whether the mother is considering adoption or not, an unwed father should, as soon as possible and preferably before the birth:

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