No More Secret Adoptions: Providing Unwed Biological Fathers with Actual Notice of the Florida Putative Father Registry
Timothy, Arcaro, No More Secret Adoptions: Providing Unwed Biological Fathers with Actual Notice of the Florida Putative Father Registry, 37 Capital University Law Review 449 (2008). In 2003, the Florida Legislature approved sweeping changes to Florida's codified Adoption Act. At the heart of these changes was the promulgation of the Florida Putative Father Registry. The 2003 Florida Adoption Act created a legal presumption that every unwed biological father in Florida had knowledge of the existence of the registry and its requirements even though the father received no actual notice. This presumption ultimately worked as a waiver of parental rights for those fathers who failed to timely register. Unwed biological fathers who registered properly preserved their right to receive actual notice of an intended adoption involving their offspring. Where an unwed biological father established compliance with the additional requirements set forth in the statute, his consent to the adoption would also be required. The 2003 Florida Adoption Act obligated the Florida Department of Health to publicize the Florida Putative Father Registry. Regardless of the Department's publicity efforts, however, unwed biological fathers were legally presumed to know and understand their legal obligations relating to the Registry requirements. While an unwed biological father was entitled to receive an adoption disclosure relating to an intended adoption of his offspring, that document did not provide any reference to the Florida Putative Father Registry. The 2003 Adoption Act raised constitutional concerns regarding the Registry because the Act failed to provide actual notice to unwed biological fathers in adoption proceedings, it eradicated all defenses for failing to register with the Registry, and it created a series of questionable legal presumptions. The Florida Supreme Court had the opportunity to address these issues in Heart of Adoptions, Inc. v. J.A. The court chose to avoid the constitutional issues implicated in the statute by reconciling the statutory language to provide actual notice of intended adoptions to putative fathers. 9 Although the court resolved the notice issue, other questions regarding the construction, application, and constitutionality of the Florida Putative Father Registry remain.