Baby daddy unknown: Missing fathers can throw kinks into adoption plan

Readers of the Denver Daily News saw an unusual item in a recent issue.

The "Notice of Anticipated Expedited Relinquishment of Parental Rights" was addressed from attorney Virginia L. Frank, representing Adoption Choices of Colorado, on behalf of Jessica Tompkins, who's due to deliver a child on or about July 16. And the addressee? "Christopher (Last name unknown)."

What the hell?

When asked for details, Frank declines to talk about Tompkins' specific case, citing privacy concerns. However, she agrees to discuss the subject in a general way.

The reason for the publication of such an item, she says, has to do with Colorado's expedited statute pertaining to adoption. If a woman is interested in giving up her child, her attorney would normally contact the father to request that he formally relinquish his parental rights. "In most adoptions, the birth father signs off," she points out. "It's really rare if we have an unknown, or someone we can't find."

It does happen, though, for a variety of reasons.

"Sometimes the mother honestly doesn't know who the father is," Frank maintains, "because they went to a party or perhaps they got intoxicated or were on drugs at the time and really don't know who in the world they slept with. Or maybe they slept with multiple partners, not knowing who they were. It depends on the age of the person and what they're into in terms of lifestyle."

In addition, she continues, "there are times when the mother does know the father, but they're no longer around, and she's unable to find him."

Both of these situations may complicate the adoption process.

"The expedited statute in Colorado allows notice to be given to the father sixty days in advance of the birth," she points out. "That way, if the father were to come out and want to parent, then the birth mother would know that, and the agency would know that, and he would have a chance to exercise his rights."

In cases when the father can't be found, the statute requires an agency to publish a notice about the pending adoption for twenty days "in the county of conception," Frank says. (In cases in which the mother doesn't know what county her unborn child was conceived in, she will publish a notice in a statewide newspaper.) "I try to do it as early as possible, so he will have the maximum amount of time before the birth mother actually relinquishes her rights, which is four days after the birth. That's when the paperwork is filed and the court signs an order saying that she's given up her rights."

If the father does nothing before that time, Frank allows, "his rights are terminated at the same time as the birth mother's."

In other words, the father can't come forward two years later and demand his parental rights. But Frank hopes men in situations like that of the one-named Christopher get a chance to consider their options.

"We want them to understand what's going on and to let us know if he wants the baby," she says. "And that's what we want. We want people to take responsibility for their children in this society and support them, and not have them be a burden to taxpayers."

Frank has been practicing law for nineteen years, spending seventeen of those in her current specialty. Over that time, she's handled an estimated 2,500 successful adoptions -- meaning ones that have "gone to completion," she says. Of those, far fewer than 10 percent required her to publish a notice to alert men that they were fathers to be -- but she doesn't complain about the times when that's necessary. "We want to be fair," she says.

In the meantime, Christopher, the clock is ticking. To learn what you've got to do if you want to take responsibility as a father, contact Frank at 303-918-6707. And be sure to give her your last name.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts