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State Laws

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Adoption is governed predominantly by state law.

For instance, state legislatures regulate who may adopt, when a birthmother may consent to adoption and the rights of unmarried biological fathers in cases where the mother wants to place a child for adoption. States also enact policies that impact adoption, such as Safe Haven and Putative Father Registry laws. Our Adoption Factbook IV, published in 2007, contains valuable analyses of state adoption laws.

Putative Father Registry Laws

About one half of the states have enacted putative father registry laws, which regulate the extent to which an unmarried, uninvolved biological father can influence a birthmother's decision to place a child for adoption. Generally, these statutes establish a timeframe within which a possible—or "putative"—father must register with an identified state agency to have any right to notice of proceedings to terminate parental rights or not to consent to placement of the child for adoption. Some statutes require the putative father not only to demonstrate that he is, in fact, the biological father, but that he is also committed to the birthmother's and child's best interests. For example, putative father laws sometimes require a demonstration of financial support to the birthmother, beginning during the pregnancy. Click here to read "Toward a National Putative Father Registry Database (Adoptions)" from Adoption Factbook IV or click here to read Adoption Advocate No. 14, "On the Benefits of a National Putative Father Registry."

Click here to view a list of states with putative father registries or click here to view a list of states without putative father registries.

NCFA appreciates the efforts of Katy Braden, 2007 NCFA Summer Intern and the expert guidance and contributions provided by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, especially Andrea Vavonese, Juliane Sullivan, Ian Shavitz, Daniel Yonan, Natalie Roisman, Robert Leonard, David Hedgepeth, Deborah Bone, and Mary Ellen Moltumyr. For additional information about state putative father registry laws, please contact us.

Safe Haven Laws

Safe Haven statutes allow desperate birthmothers to relinquish their newborns legally and confidentially with authorized caregivers, in designated locations, rather than abandoning them unsafely or directly harming them. Their purpose is to reduce the number of infant deaths and traumas through unsafe abandonment in such places as dumpsters and toilets.

Safe Haven statutes work by providing the desperate birthmother a non-threatening escape from her crisis so she will not harm her child. Once legally relinquished, the babies are placed for adoption. Safe Haven laws typically regulate the age a newborn must be to qualify as a newborn, the designated Safe Haven locations, and the nature of the protection afforded the birthmother.

As of February 2008, all fifty states have enacted Safe Haven laws for the protection of at-risk infants. Only the District of Columbia is currently without this child welfare safeguard.
For more information about Safe Havens, contact the National Safe Haven Alliance.

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