Unwed Fathers

When a child is first born, an unwed father possesses an opportunity no other male possesses to develop a relationship with his offspring – Lehr v. Robertson

Unwed fathers may find themselves in a situation where the mother of their child has left them in the dark, unaware of the biological mother’s whereabouts and clueless as to what is going on in the life of their unborn child.  The mother may be considering abortion, adoption or seeking to terminate the unwed father’s parental rights.  Although an unwed father may find himself in what appears to be a hopeless situation, the unwed father (also referred to as “putative father”) can take steps to establish and develop a relationship with his child.

Regarding the issue of adoption, S.C. Code § 63-9-730 enumerates the circumstances where an unwed father is entitled to notification of adoption proceedings:

(4) the father of a child born when the father was not married to the child’s mother, if the child was placed with the prospective adoptive parents more than six months after the child’s birth, but only if the father has maintained substantial and continuous or repeated contact with the child as demonstrated by:

(a) payment by the father toward the support of the child of a fair and reasonable sum, based on the father’s financial ability; and either

(b) visits by the father to the child at least monthly when the father is physically and financially able to do so, and when the father is not prevented from doing so by the person or agency having lawful custody of the child; or

(c) regular communication by the father with the child or with the person or agency having lawful custody of the child, when the father is physically and financially unable to visit the child, or when the father is prevented from visiting the child by the person or agency having lawful custody of the child.

The subjective intent of the father, if unsupported by evidence of the acts specified in subitems (a), (b), and (c) of this item (4) of subsection (A) of this section, does not preclude a determination that the father failed to maintain substantial and continuous or repeated contact with the child. In making this determination, the court may not require a showing of diligent efforts by any person or agency having lawful custody of the child to encourage the father to perform the acts. A father of a child born when the father was not married to the child’s mother, who openly lived with the child for a period of six months within the one-year period immediately preceding the placement of the child for adoption, and who during the six-months period openly held himself out to be the father of the child is considered to have maintained substantial and continuous or repeated contact with the child for the purpose of this item (4) of subsection (A) of this section; or

(5) the father of a child born when the father was not married to the child’s mother, if the child was placed with the prospective adoptive parents six months or less after the child’s birth, but only if:

(a) the father openly lived with the child or the child’s mother for a continuous period of six months immediately preceding the placement of the child for adoption, and the father openly held himself out to be the father of the child during the six months period; or

(b) the father paid a fair and reasonable sum, based on the father’s financial ability, for the support of the child or for expenses incurred in connection with the mother’s pregnancy or with the birth of the child, including, but not limited to, medical, hospital, and nursing expenses.

An unwed father may find himself in a situation where he does not meet any of the requirements set forth in S.C. Code § 63-9-730.  The Responsible Father Registry was created for unwed fathers who find themselves in that very situation.   An unwed father is able to register with the Responsible Father Registry using his personal information and any information he has regarding the child and the child’s biological mother.  There is no fee to register, and the child does not need to be born for the father to go ahead and complete registry.  Once registered, it is the responsibility of the adopting party’s attorney to notify the unwed father of any adoption proceedings that may take place.  It is important to note that the unwed father must register prior to the commencement of adoption proceedings in order for him to be entitled to notification of the adoption proceedings.

Another resource for unwed fathers is the Department of Social Services where an unwed father can complete a Non-Custodial Parent Application to help establish legal paternity.  In this situation, the paperwork can be completed prior to the child being born; but, since DNA testing is required, the child must be born before legal paternity can be established.

Ultimately, there are steps available for an unwed father to take in order to establish and develop a relationship with his child.  But, it is the responsibility of the unwed father to seek help to take those steps or run the risk of missing his opportunity to be a presence in the child’s life.  If you are an unwed father in a similar situation, you can contact our office for an initial consultation.