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Fathers of adopted kids only have a short time to seek custody

Men in Virginia should know that it can be difficult to assert paternity over a child, if they are not married to the mother of the boy or girl. If the mother gives up the child for adoption, the father may not be told about it, so they may lose the chance to fight for child custody before they even learn they have a child.

The law in Virginia says that a father must contest an adoption within six months of when it is petitioned for in court. After six months, it is very difficult to nullify the adoption, or even get visitation rights. For men who unknowingly get a woman pregnant, such as in a brief relationship, this can cut them off from their biological sons or daughters permanently.

To try to help men find out if they have children they were not aware of, the state manages a Putative Father Registry. Men can submit a list of their female sexual partners. If one of those women later initiates an adoption, the man will be alerted. He could then decide whether to challenge the adoption.

However, the registry has not proven very popular. Only about 850 men have signed up. Many men are not aware of the registry. Others may be reluctant to share information about their private lives with the government.

A man who had a one-night stand found out three years later that the woman had given birth to a daughter. The woman told him that she believed he was the father, and that the girl had been adopted by a Virginia couple. It appears that the man is also a Virginian, but a story by WWBT-TV is not clear on this point. He was not on the Putative Father Registry.

He managed to track down the girl. Her adoptive parents gave him photos, and allowed a brief visit, but contested his petition for a paternity test. The court denied the petition, finding that it came after the six-month window.

Men who are seeking child custody rights may face several challenges. Having a family law attorney on your side could help even the odds.

Source: WWBT-TV, “Fathers of children out of wedlock in VA lose rights if name not on registry,” Diane Walker, Feb. 26, 2014

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