Adoption agency not permitted to conduct search on unknown putative father

Children's Home Society of Florida, a licensed adoption agency, appealed a non-final order requiring it to conduct a diligent search for the putative father of a baby girl placed with the Society for adoption. Children's Home Soc'y of Fla. v. V. D., Case No. 1D16-0021, 2016 Fla. App. LEXIS 4700 (March 28, 2016).

Despite the Society’s several attempts of identification about the putative father, the baby's birth mother, who was single did not identify the father before giving the baby up for adoption. She instead signed a sworn statement that the identity of the father was unknown. She also signed a consent to entry of an order terminating parental rights including her own rights. There was no father listed on the baby's birth certificate as well, nor has there been a claim of paternity with the Office of Vital Statistics or otherwise asserted or acknowledged paternity. Thereafter, the Society duly conducted a diligent search of the Florida Putative Father Registry and obtained a certificate that there was no filing pertinent to the father of this baby.

Conversely, on a final hearing to terminate parental rights and finalize adoption, the birth mother identified a possible father and that he worked at an unspecified car dealership. She expressed concern over her privacy rights. On a second instance, she suggested another man again by first name and that he worked at an unspecified home-improvement store, but gave no other information about either man or any other who might be the father.

The trial court then entered the order under review, requiring the Society to conduct a diligent search to locate the two men. The Society appealed. The order was stayed pending an appeal to the Court of Appeal of Florida, First District; and after granting the stay, the trial court sua sponte appointed an attorney to represent the interests of the unknown father.

However, under the clear and unambiguous provisions of the statute, the adoption agency is not required to serve a notice of intended adoption plan on a putative father unless the mother has first identified a "known and locatable unmarried biological father. . . by the date she signs her consent for adoption." Fla. Stat. § 63.062(3). Likewise, the statute does not require the agency to conduct a diligent search for the putative father unless the mother has identified a potential father "within the timeframes required by the statute." Fla. Stat. § 63.062(3)(b).

This was not the case here. Moreover, the trial court's sua sponte questioning of the birth mother five months after she had consented to termination of parental rights and to the baby's adoption, and had sworn at least twice that the birth father was unknown, was a violation of the mother's privacy rights under Fla. Stat. § 63.088(4).


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