|Please Note: The following information is provided for public education, social awareness, and should not be considered legal advice. The authors are not lawyers. Readers with legal questions should consult a licensed attorney for legal advice.|
A Father's Love Denied: Adoption Gone Wrong...Mark Huddleston's Story
by Jane Spies and Murray Davis, both of the National Family Justice Association
The negative implications of the recent controversial U.S. Supreme Court 'Kelo v. New London' eminent domain decision ruling that government could transfer private property, in that case a home, to a private corporation since more tax revenue would be generated are still reverberating throughout our country...and rightly so.
But far more precious rights are being "stolen," to put it mildly, and they have been for years. We speak of fundamental Constitutional rights and the liberty interest of fit biological parents to the care, custody, and control of their own biological children.
Consider the story of Mark Huddleston, married father of 2 grown children, recently covered by the Associated Press (6/14/05):
Mark Huddleston is doing everything within his power to stay in his beloved 16-month-old biological son's life and to raise him, to no avail, so far.
According to the Albuquerque Journal (6/14/05), in March, 2005, a judge terminated Mark Huddleston's parental rights to his biological son with no visitation. Mark has appealed that decision. It is reported that a private adoption agency had placed Mark's son with a prospective adoptive couple 3 days after his birth, without Mark's consent to an adoption. Huddleston first learned of his son's birth when he received a letter from that adoption agency, Adoptions Plus, in April 2004, informing him of the possibility that he might have a 2-month-old child.
Mark Huddleston said, "As soon as I heard of my son's birth, I immediately went to the adoption agency to let them know that if this is my child, I will not consent to an adoption. I feel like I'm in another country. I thought this kind of thing just can't happen in America. I just want my son."
According to news reports, in December of 2004, Mark had been given supervised visitation with his son, pending the custody trial that he filed in April, 2004, immediately after learning of his child's birth.
He met his son for the very first time when the baby was 11 months old.
"Huddleston said his child reached for him the first day they met. 'I don't know if it's genetic bonding or what,' he said." (Valencia County News-Bulletin, 6/15/05)
It was reported that even the state of New Mexico said Mark should have the opportunity to raise the child since "...the private adoption agency hadn't properly notified Huddleston..." (Valencia County News-Bulletin, 6/15/05).
Despite the state's statement in his favor and Mark's outstanding perseverance in trying to obtain custody of his own child - he has spent $70,000 on legal proceedings to gain custody, so far - Mark still does not have his son.
One would think that common sense would dictate the immediate return of the son to his biological father. Furthermore, public opinion is overwhelmingly on Mark's side, as evidenced by reported audience reaction to a radio talk show interview of Mark in June, 2005.
We at the National Family Justice Association (NFJA) believe this blatant injustice to Mark's family and other similarly situated families should be front-page daily news.
Perhaps part of the reason for the lack of adequate public attention to the unjust loss of fit parents' parental rights is that this potential loss of such fundamental rights is just too terrible to imagine. But as we, a nation, are now facing the potential negative implications of the "Kelo decision" to individual property rights, we must now face the implications of years of ignoring basic constitutional protections for natural fit parents of the care, custody, and control of our own children.
NFJA wants to raise public awareness of the issue of adoptions gone awry so that just and proper solutions can be found. Tragically, there are many similar stories where fit and loving biological fathers lose children against their will.
Frequently, dads who come forward to assert their paternity to prevent an adoption are not welcomed, or are not seen as loving, aggrieved dads. Rather, they are too often seen as "troublemakers" or obstacles to closing an adoption deal. Their suffering, and the suffering of their extended families, including grandparents, over the loss of beloved children is unacknowledged or denied.
Various ways have been proposed to address how to avoid situations where birth fathers come forward to claim their children who have been adopted out against their will, without their knowledge, or without their consent. One "solution" is the implementation of "putative father registries," which we believe are being used in about 25 states.
- In New York, a 20-year-old father lost his son to an adoption that was finalized without this dad's consent and against his wishes. The mother of his son and the baby's grandmother had concealed the existence of the baby from him. He only learned this after the grandmother apparently relented and decided to tell him that there was indeed a child who had been adopted away from him. By then, his son was 13 months old. (nypostonline.com/commentary, 12/20/00; and Guardian, 12/5/00)
Although state requirements and procedures vary, in general, a man who has sexual relations that might result in a pregnancy must sign up with the state within varying periods of time of the child's birth, or before the birth, to be notified that an adoption might be pending. The man must give his name and the prospective mother's name or other information, depending upon state requirements, so that he can be notified if an adoption petition is filed.
We believe that the putative father registry idea, as it now stands, devalues fathers and fatherhood. Are fathers considered so unimportant or disposable that their rights to their own offspring are protected only by a tenuous system that seems to be untested, unevaluated, ineffective, and virtually unadvertised?
Did you ever hear of the putative father registry and do you know what is required for unmarried dads to claim their biological children? We believe that most readers would say that they have not heard of such a registry.
And we cannot possibly understand how putting a woman's and man's name on a "putative father registry list" - even though we're assured it's confidential - protects the mom's or dad's privacy.
Furthermore, do the putative father registries really "work"? Apparently it didn't work for one Ohio dad who signed the state registry, as required. An alleged "computer error" prevented the putative father registry system from notifying this dad of the pending adoption of his son by an Ohio couple. (Toledo Blade, 3/6/01).
And what if an adoption is filed outside of the state in which the "putative father" registered? According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, 3/23/03, an Indiana dad signed the Indiana registry as required but still lost rights to his baby daughter, "Baby Colette," who had been taken to another state and put up for adoption without his knowledge and against his will.
There is talk of implementing a national putative father registry, but the aforementioned questions would still apply.
We should ask ourselves why we as a society are trying to come up with such a circuitous way, perhaps prone to failure, to inform prospective dads of a pregnancy or birth of a child. Why are some making it so difficult for fathers to raise their own children? Might it have something to do with monetary interests of the adoption industry and ensuring that there is an ample "supply" of adoptable children? Adoption can be expensive.
For example, "Adoption can cost $15,000 to $20,000 or even more, but credits, reimbursements, and other benefits can make your adoption affordable. ..."
The solution is really simple. Birth mothers should be required to disclose the names of all potential fathers, with paternity established by DNA testing, prior to legalizing all adoptions.
There are many ways to locate people if one makes an earnest and diligent effort to do so. We believe that a dad, facing the adoption of his child against his will, must have legal notice and due process. It can't just be an ad in an obscure newspaper in another state or a letter sent to his last known address. This isn't merely notice of an overdue parking ticket that we are talking about. This is far more serious. This involves a parent's life with his or her child, and should be treated as such.
Every child has the right to know his or her own parents and genetic medical history. We can't simply say to fit biological parents opposing an adoption and who want their child: "Yes, you're fit, but we found 2 other "fitter" parents who can offer something better to your child." This is not how our system is supposed to work. The private realm of family should not be intruded upon in this egregious way.
We believe you can't separate a child's right from a fit parent's rights. If you thwart a parent's rights, you indirectly hurt the child. A fit parent, mom or dad, protects their child by virtue of his or her parental rights. They are the people best situated to know what their child needs. They are the ones who know what is truly in their child's best interest. We believe the rights of the child include preserving the child's fit biological parents' rights, until and unless those rights are willingly, legally, and knowingly given up.
We are certainly not against adoptions, but it must be done with proper notice and due process rights for both biological parents, not under duress, with informed consent, and preferably openly so that adoptees can know their parentage in the future. All person's interests, including the interests of the prospective adoptive parents, would then be protected.
The monetary interests of adoption agencies or others with vested interests in a thriving adoption "industry" should not supersede our basic fundamental rights to our own children and children's rights to their parents. We fear that financial interests are now too much in the foreground, while, too often, biological parents' rights are ignored to further commercial financial interests.
In recent years, the oft-repeated government public service announcement tag line, which apparently was meant to encourage so-called "irresponsible fathers" to "become responsible" was: "They're your kids, be their dad."
We cringe when we hear that phrase because most fathers are indeed responsible, and they want to be there to love and raise their children, as does any good parent. This phrase reinforces and perpetuates an erroneous and damaging negative stereotype of the "runaway" or "absent" dad. The stereotype denies the reality that there are countless deadbolted, noncustodial dads and moms, unfairly and unnecessarily locked out of their children's lives with little or no recourse to get back in.
Mark's case illustrates the phenomenon of the "deadbolted dad" well. He did what society says it wants dads to do...He stepped up for his beloved son. Yet he's still waiting and actively seeking to have his child. Every day that passes is precious time forever lost between this dad and his son.
The bottom line is this: Children need and love their fathers equally as much as they need and love their mothers. Fathers love their children equally as much as mothers do. Fathers do matter - yes, including unmarried fathers.
Murray Davis is Board President and a co-founder of the National Family Justice Association (www.NFJA.org). He can be contacted at: NFJAPres@aol.com
Jane Spies, M.S. Ed., is Executive Director and a co-founder of the National Family Justice Association (NFJA). She can be contacted at: NFJAinfo@aol.com