Contesting an adoption does not automatically stop an adoption from proceeding, but it allows interested parties to present evidence in front of a judge.
If an adoption is contested, there will be a hearing at which the judge can listen to the arguments and see the evidence from both sides. A contested adoption is one in which one biological parent wants to place the child for adoption, but the other biological parent does not. Contested adoptions tend to occur in certain types of situations. Generally, these are situations in which the biological father may not find out about the child until the adoption is already in progress, or in which a biological father changes his mind about the adoption during the process. Another common way in which an adoption may become contested is when the initial person identified as the birth father turns out not to be the biological father of the child. If an adoption is contested, a judge will hear the case.
During the adoption hearing, the parties—probably through their attorneys—will get a chance to make their case. Exactly when the adoption hearing will take place will depend on the state. However, the adoption cannot be finalized until this issue is settled, so both parties may have an interest in getting a judgment about these issues as soon as possible.
When a biological father is contesting an adoption, he is saying that he does not consent to the adoption and that he is able and willing to take custody and parent the child. At the hearing, the father can present evidence about his knowledge and conduct during the pregnancy and after the child was born. States have specific requirements for what a biological father must have done to establish his right to parent. For example, if a biological father is out of contact with the birth mother and child and does not provide any child support for a year or more, he may lose his right to object to the adoption due to abandonment.
After the Hearing
What happens after the hearing depends on which side the judge takes. If the judge finds for the biological father, he will be given custody of the child, and the adoption will be terminated. If the father’s petition is not granted, one of two things will happen. Either the court will allow the adoption to proceed as planned, or the judge will schedule a hearing to decide what the best interest of the child would be. A best interest hearing would give the biological father a chance to be heard. Also, unlike the contested adoption hearing, the best interest hearing will give the potential adoptive parents a chance to be heard and present evidence. Then, the judge will make a decision about which household would be “in the best interest of the child.”
Preventing a Contested Adoption
Contested adoptions can be stressful. However, there are some things that you can do to avoid this situation. Initially, the biological mother should share any information that she knows about any potential biological fathers. Sometimes a birth mother may be reluctant to disclose details about the birth father, perhaps out of fear that he will not consent to the adoption. However, without proper identification of the birth father, he may not be able to exercise his parental rights or give consent. This can cause issues later when he finds out. It should also be noted that fathers have the same rights as mothers and are legally entitled to an opportunity to exercise those rights.
Birth fathers can mitigate the possibility that their parental rights or intentions will be questioned in a number of ways. For example, in determining whether a contested adoption should proceed, states will look at whether the father has provided financial support during the mother’s pregnancy or for the child after birth. Putative fathers can also follow the paternity declaration procedures in their state. For example, some states have registries in which potential birth fathers can declare their status as a parent. The more involved that the birth father is with the financial and emotional support of the child and mother, the more likely the court is to find for him.
Putative Father Registries
Some states have putative father registries to help prospective adoptive parents identify potential fathers as part of their due diligence, while also helping fathers establish paternity.
For adoptive parents, due diligence is important in trying to locate the birth father. Prospective adoptive parents may be reluctant to inform the father about a child he may not know about. However, doing so could make the adoption process much smoother and give the child a chance to have a relationship with their biological father.