This is an unfortunate case in many ways. It is unfortunate that, due to Mother’s blatant and calculated lies, Father has had to retain counsel to protect his fundamental parental rights. It is unfortunate that, due to Mother’s blatant and calculated lies, Bethany Christian was deceived into believing that it had done what it needed to do in order to notify the biological father of the planned adoption. It is unfortunate that, due to Mother’s blatant and calculated lies, the Child has been living with prospective adoptive parents and forming a bond with them and that relationship must now come to an end through no fault of the prospective adoptive parents. Because of Mother’s behavior, there are no true winners in this case.
Those are the words of the Court of Appeals of Tennessee in this case.
It’s an interesting case for a several reasons. The first is that the facts, as agreed to by the parties, show clearly the extent to which a single mother who’s determined to do so, can exercise complete control over a father’s parental rights. The second is how dogged and frankly lucky a single father has to be to wrest his rights from her grasp. But most importantly, I’ve seen similar facts in countless cases in which the dad invariably loses in the end, but not so here. I’ts impossible for me to overemphasize the significance of that.
The two people in question are just referred to as Father and Mother by the court, so that’s how I’ll refer to them here. They met in May, 2008; by late June, 2008, she announced that she thought she was pregnant. They performed a home pregnancy test and sure enough, it came back positive. Father was overjoyed. He told Mother that he was eagerly looking forward to being a dad. They discussed marriage. They told his father and mother. All seemed well and happy.
Sometime around August 20th though, everything changed. Mother left the relationship and forbade Father from having any contact with her. Although the stipulations of the parties aren’t clear on this, here’s what I think happened: Mother got cold feet and embarked on a plan to destroy the relationship as a means to avoid marriage and family via placing the child for adoption. To that end, she told Father that he might not be the dad, that another man might be the father. Sure enough, that angered Father and he wrote her a nasty letter calling her a “cheating whore.”
Mother moved in with her mother. Father sent her letters and money, all of which Mother refused. He attempted to visit her, but she accused him of stalking. Mother went to Bethany Christian Services to place the child for adoption. She lied to them about who the father of her child was. On and around her due date, Father and his mother attempted to locate the hospital at which Mother was to give birth, but no hospital would tell them whether or not she was there.
Some time after giving birth, Mother saw Father’s sister in the local WalMart. They chatted and Mother informed the sister that she had miscarried at four or five months of pregnancy. When informed of this, Father’s mother didn’t believe Mother’s story.
The child, Anna, was placed for adoption and notice of the termination of parental rights was placed in the newspaper which Father’s father saw and notified Father. He immediately contested the adoption by filing a suit claiming paternity. As part of that suit, paternity was established via genetic testing. Father had never filed a notice of paternity with the state’s putative father registry.
So what’s the result? Did the court allow Father’s parental rights to be terminated and the adoption to go forward? It did not. The trial court ruled for Father and the appellate court affirmed. Although this hasn’t happened yet, it looks like Father will get custody of Anna and Mother will pay child support to him.
Obviously, Mother made some mistakes in her effort to bypass Father. But what she did, and what she failed to do provide every single mother a step-by-step primer on how to deny a single father his parental rights and a child its father. Such a primer would look something like this:
Ideally, the father shouldn’t know about the pregnancy at all. So once a mother learns she’s conceived, she should break off the relationship. She should be nice, but firm. She should tell him she’s seeing someone else with whom she thinks she’s in love. That way, if he accidentally learns she’s pregnant, he’ll assume it’s the other fellow’s child.
If she lets the cat out of the bag and tells the dad that she’s pregnant or he finds out some other way, that complicates matters, but not unduly. First, Mom needs to create a crisis in the relationship. Telling the father that she’s been cheating on him and the child may not be his is a good way to accomplish that. Then, feigning righteous indignation, moving away from the father and refusing any contact with him is the next step. If he persists, telling the police that he’s stalking her, threatening violence, etc. can be very effective.
When it comes to adoption, she shouldn’t use a local adoption agency, but one from Utah. They’re masters at depriving fathers of their parental rights and once the child is in Utah, there’s no way a court of that state will return it to the dad. (We’ve seen that just recently in the case of Virginia dad John Wyatt.
Whatever adoption agency she chooses, she must lie to them about who the father is. The best way to do this is to say she doesn’t know and can’t know who the dad is. So, she should tell them she she got drunk one night and had consensual sex with a man she met in a bar. When it’s time to deliver, she should go to an out-of-county hospital and, when they ask for information on the father for the birth certificate, tell him she doesn’t know who he is. They won’t press the matter.
If single mom follows those simple steps, the dad will lose any claim he has quick as turning off a light.
The other interesting part about the Anna S. case is how dogged the dad was in asserting his rights. In the end, that, along with the multiple mistakes made by Mother, allowed him to do what few fathers have done in the same situation – get back a child whose mother was determined to give it away. In the final analysis, if Mother had been smarter about what she was doing, all of Father’s efforts would have been in vain. Just ask John Wyatt.
Notice too, in reading the case, all the things statute law in Tennessee requires a single father to do to secure his parental rights. He must, among other things, maintain some sort of relationship with the mother by making at least reasonable visitation with her. He must contribute to her support during pregnancy and contribute to the expenses of childbirth. Failure to do so constitutes abandonment which means he has no parental rights.
So again, as we’ve so often seen, a single mother’s parental rights are established automatically at birth; a single father must take specific actions to preserve his rights.
Interestingly, the Tennessee court emphasized the mother’s “blatant and calculated lies” in making its decision. That is, it was her actions that prevented Father from doing the things he needed to do to preserve his rights, and therefore he could not be held responsible for having failed to do them. I’ve seen many and many a case in which the fact that a mother had intentionally lied to a father for the purpose of separating him from his child was completely ignored by a court in terminating his rights.
Does this case signal a new direction?
One last thing. Notice that little Anna has been living with her prospective adoptive parents since her birth over two years ago. And yet she is now to be taken from them and given to Father. The court rightly calls this “unfortunate.” But still, it returns the child to her father. Again, I’ve seen many cases in which the court fully agrees that the father’s rights have been intentionally and wrongly denied him by the actions of the mother, but still terminates his rights because the child has “bonded” with its adoptive parents. The best interests of the child, according to the court, trump all else and taking the child from “the only parents it has ever known” would be too traumatic, so it’s “tough luck, dad.”
But the court here doesn’t do that. Parental rights are parental rights and the child will adjust to her new surroundings, as countless children do in countless situations (divorce, remarriage, parental death, changed custody, foster care, etc.) in which they’re moved from one parent to another. For once a court is looking at parental rights as paramount and recognizing that a mother can’t benefit from her own wrongful actions. For once it’s not penalizing a father for the wrongs of the mother.
Again I ask, does this case signal a new direction?