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North Carolina case illustrates limited rights of unmarried dads

A recent case from another state – North Carolina – illustrates a Catch-22 scenario in the ongoing struggle many fathers have to be recognized as important parts of their children's lives: the limited rights of unmarried biological fathers for whom paternity wasn't legally established following the birth of the child. In this unique case, the mother and father had a primarily physical relationship without the customary entanglements of holding themselves out as a couple, living together or discussing marriage.

At one point during their on-again, off-again relationship, the mother had become pregnant, but she terminated the pregnancy upon mutual agreement of both parties. After that point, the couple ended their relationship save from occasional visits. In the interim, the mother realized she had become pregnant, gave birth to the child who is the subject of this action and gave the baby up for adoption. Approximately six months after that point, the father learned of the pregnancy for the first time. He filed a motion to cancel the adoption and take custody of the child, but that motion was denied.


The North Carolina Supreme Court became involved in the case on appeal, and they ultimately decided against overturning the adoption. Though the Court admits that the mother took several actions explicitly to hide the baby from the father (including not informing the father of her pregnancy, not putting his name on the birth certificate and purposely misspelling his name on the Affidavit of Parentage required for the adoption), it was still his responsibility to be aware of the child, thus he should have taken action prior to the child being adopted.

The case was a close one, though, and several judges joined in dissent, arguing that since the mother acted in bad faith by hiding the pregnancy, it would be unfair to punish the father for something beyond his control. Regardless, this father has potentially forever lost out on the opportunity to have a relationship with his child.

Though this didn't happen in Washington, the same result is possible here, since most states simply don't adequately protect the rights of unmarried fathers when an official establishment or admission of paternity hasn't been filed. If you are an unmarried dad, you need to understand the possible ramifications of not formally acknowledging your role as a father and take action to protect your parental rights.

Source: News & Record, "Court doesn't upset adoption for biological father," Doug Clark, June 12, 2014

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