A Father Waits 18 Years
When I first became a judge, a man appeared before me asking for permission to see his son’s adoption records. This son had been adopted a little over 18 years earlier as a baby and he wanted to get in touch with him. Had he agreed to the adoption? I asked. “No, I objected to the adoption.” Had his parental rights been terminated prior to the adoption? I asked. “No, the court ruled that I had no standing to object because the mother and I were not married.” Back in 1972, the United States Supreme Court had ruled that an unwed father had a constitutional right to object to the adoption of his child, provided he had established a parental relationship with the child. Today, most states have putative father registries so that a man claiming to be the father of a child can be notified and object to an adoption. Neither of these was in place to help this father at the time of his son’s birth. The father had even appealed the trial court decision to a higher Massachusetts court; his appeal was denied as was required by the law in effect at that time.
Members of the court’s Probation Department (Family Service Office) are asked to do many things from mediation to fact checking to enforcing child support orders to preparing home studies. They often must slip into the very living rooms of the litigants to determine on an impartial basis what in fact is going on. Seeing so much tumult and hurt, it is always rewarding to be able to work on a case with so much possibility for a positive outcome. In this case, the Family Service Officers were able to locate the man’s son and arrange a meeting. The father and son met each other face to face for the first time and began, together, the long journey towards knowing and healing.