Ohio Putative Father Registry: The Basics
Erik L. Smith
Published originally in Ohio Lawyer, March/April 2005
Last updated June 2008
Unwed fathers are entitled to notice of petitions to adopt their biological children. Yet many fathers lose this right by not registering timely with the Ohio putative father registry (PFR).1R.C. 3107.062. Because adoptions are probate proceedings, lawyers practicing juvenile, domestic relations, or traditional probate law may not understand how the Ohio PFR applies. At initial consultations then, attorneys may omit counseling fathers about the registry and refer them to attorneys with more specialized experience. But the strict registration deadline, and often unknown deadline date, demand that the father register immediately. Thus the attorney should consider counseling the client about the PFR and help him register that day before referring him. This article gives the information needed to do that.
A putative father is a man named as the father of a child born out of wedlock but for whom paternity has not been established.2ODJFS: Ohio office of Child Support Glossary, http://www.jfs.ohio.gov/Ocs/glossary.stm#P Statutorily, a father is "putative" where he (1) was not married to the mother when the child was conceived or born, (2) has not adopted the child, (3) was not determined before the adoption to be the child's parent3Under R.C. 3111.01 - .18 (parentage) or R.C. 3111.38 - .54 (Request for administrative determination of paternity), or similar proceeding in another state. and (4) has not acknowledged paternity under R.C. 3111.21 to 3111.35 (mutual acknowledgement).4R. C. 3107.01 (H). A putative father must register no later than thirty days after his child's birth to receive notice of the adoption petition.5R. C. 3101.07(B)(1). The deadline is absolute: neither deceit, misrepresentation, nor ignorance of the pregnancy will likely excuse failure to register.6Inferred from R.C. 3107.061; 3107.07(B)(1); In re Cameron, 153 Ohio App.3d 687, 2003-Ohio-4304 (1st Dist.) at ¶2, 24. This has not been tested constitutionally under all circumstances, however. Ignorance of the PFR is no excuse either.7Lehr v. Robertson (1983), 463 U.S. 248, 264. 8Although R.C. 3107.065(B) requires the Department of Job and Family Services to "Establish a campaign to promote awareness of the putative father registry." The PFR applies to men of all ages.9See In re Adoption of Suvak, 2004-Ohio-536 (3rd Dist.) A man need not confirm a birth or pregnancy to register, and he may register before the birth.10R.C. 3107.061; OAC: 5101:2-48-02(B).
The law recognizes a few exceptions to the registration requirement.
Theoretically, a putative father may overcome failure to register by having developed a relationship with the child.11See In re Cameron, 153 Ohio App.3d 687, 2003-Ohio-4304 (1st Dist.). at ¶23-25. What constitutes a developed relationship remains unclear. But it would require a substantial degree of regular support and child-father contact.12Id. at ¶25. A putative father should register regardless.