I have previously posted in general terms about the need for unmarried biological father’s to act early and often in order to preserve their rights to a relationship with their child.
This post will be a little more specific about the steps an unmarried biological father must take in order to preserve his rights. However, it should be strongly emphasized that this is by no means an exhaustive list, and specific legal advice should be sought for any individual circumstance.
In order for an unmarried biological father to preserve his right to be notified of and consent to an adoption involving his biological child, he must begin attempts to support the child during the mother’s pregnancy if he knows about the pregnancy. He must offer to pay and actually pay for a reasonable amount of the expenses of the mother’s pregnancy and the child’s birth, according to his ability, unless he is prevented from doing so by persons or agencies with legal custody of the child or if the mother refuses his offer. Utah Code Section 78B-6-121 (3).
He must initiate a parentage case in a District Court of Utah and file a notice of commencement of the parentage case with the office of vital statistics within the Department of Health. Utah Code Section 78B-6-110 (3)(a) (Notice of Adoption Proceedings). See also Utah Code Section 78B-6-121 (3).
In the parentage case the unmarried biological father must file a sworn affidavit stating that he is fully able and willing to have full custody of the child, setting forth his plans to care for the child, and agreeing to a court order of child support and the payment of expenses incurred in connection with the mother’s pregnancy and the child’s birth. Utah Code Section 78B-6-121 (3).
The parentage case may be filed before or after the birth of the child. However, it must be filed before the mother executes a consent for the adoption of the child or before she relinquishes the child for adoption.
Even if the case is started before the child is born, it cannot be fully concluded until after the child is born. Before the child is born the parentage action may be legally served upon the mother, discovery can be conducted and, subject to some limitations, collection of specimens for genetic testing may be taken, although in utero testing may not be ordered. See Utah Code Section 78B-15-116.
If the unmarried biological father does not know the county where the birth mother resides, he may begin a parentage case in any county, subject to a change in trial. See Utah Code Section 78B-3-307.
The unmarried biological father has at least one business day after the child’s birth to fully and strictly comply with Utah Code Section 78B-6-121 (3).
If the child is six months of age or older, the father must have developed a substantial relationship with the child by visiting the child monthly unless he was physically or financially unable to do so. He must regularly communicate with the child or person or agency that has lawful custody of the child. He must take some measure of responsibility for the child and the child’s future. He must demonstrate a full commitment to the responsibilities of parenthood by financial support of the child of a fair and reasonable sum according to his ability. Utah Code Section 78B-6-121 (1)(a).
In the alternative, if the child is six months of age or older, the father must have developed a substantial relationship with the child by having openly lived with the child for a period of at least six months during the one-year period immediately preceding the day on which the child is placed with prospective adoptive parents; or if the child is less than one year old, for a period of at least six months during the period of time beginning on the day in which the child is born and ending on the day on which the child is placed with the prospective adoptive parents and immediately preceding placement of the child with prospective adoptive parents. Utah Code Section 78B-6-(1)(b)(1). He must also have openly held himself out to be the child’s father during the six month period described above.
If the father is prevented from complying with the requirements of the prior two paragraphs by the person or authorized agency having lawful custody of the child, he is not required to to comply with that requirement.
I know that even this non-exhaustive summary is a lot to digest. I point out these sections of the law primarily to emphasize the need for unmarried biological fathers to act very early on in attempting to secure their relationship with their child. Utah law is about as strict as the Constitution allows in imposing requirements on unmarried biological fathers to secure their rights. It requires a sincere demonstration of commitment on the part of the father to his child. This includes but is not limited to visiting the child, communicating with the child (in an age appropriate fashion), offering to provide support for the child, including expenses of pregnancy and childbirth, and filing the appropriate legal paperwork in a timely fashion.
This material should not be construed as legal advice for any particular fact situation, but is intended for general informational purposes only. For advice specific to any individual situation, an experienced attorney should be contacted.