When you choose to build your family through adoption there are many things to consider. Will you pursue international, domestic, or foster care? With each choice comes specific regulations and new terminology. For families interested in domestic adoption, adoption is handled at the state level rather than by federal mandate. As such each state differs in guidelines and procedures for pursuing domestic adoption. One such variance is consent laws. While every state agrees that consent to the adoption must be given freely and voluntarily by the birth parents, states vary with respect to paternity laws.

Previously, under the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, for a child born out of wedlock, the choice to surrender that child to adoption lie solely with the biological mother. But a series of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that even though a child may have been born out of wedlock, the father’s paternal rights should be constitutionally protected, provided the father can establish a biological link to the child. Because domestic adoption is handled at the state level, responsibility lies with each state to have in place a system for establishing paternal rights. Enter the Putative Father Registry.

The Putative Father Registry is a state database system where unwed men can document, through a notary public, any children they may have fathered. Upon registration, men will list their name, social security number, birth date, address, and the name of the potential mother. Timelines for registration vary state to state but typically must be completed before birth or within 30 days after the birth. Men who fail to file within this timeframe risk losing parental rights. Once registered, fathers must be given notice of any court proceedings regarding the child and any petitions for adoption and/or termination of parental rights. Access to the Putative Father Registry is available to anyone directly related to the case, such as birth mothers, courts, attorneys, agencies, and prospective adoptive parents.

If a man comes forward claiming to be the father, paternity must still be established through a court order. Even then, the father must show a willingness to commit to parenting and must accept the child’s medical and financial needs. Alternatively, a man may choose to rescind his intent to claim paternity, in which case adoption petitions proceed solely with the birth mother.

To date, 33 states have the Putative Father Registry in place. The remaining 17 states vary with regards to establishing paternal rights, though paternity is usually claimed by filing an affidavit in court.


Jennifer S. Jones is a writer, performer, storyteller and arts educator. She holds an MFA (Playwriting) from NYU Tisch. She has written numerous plays including the internationally renowned, award-winning Appearance of Life. Her amazing transracial transcultural family was created through adoption from China and India. She is passionate about the adoption community and talks about the ins and outs, ups and downs, joys and “is this really us?!” whenever she can. She writes about her experiences at www.letterstojack.com.