Proposed Changes To Ohio Adoption Laws Will Erode Putative Fathers’ Rights
Reduction In Contest Time To Favor Adoption Parents In The State Of Ohio
On January 29, 2014, the Ohio House of Representatives passed Substitute HB 307, the “Adoption Reform Bill” or, as dubbed by some, the “Make Adoption Cheap and Fast Bill.” Ohio Right to Life groups advocated and lobbied for the Bill’s passage. The Bill was proposed and passed in the general assembly with seventy seven (77) affirmative votes and only fourteen (14) negative votes.
Why is HB 307 important?
HB 307 is very important due to the significant time changes it imposes on putative fathers, the tax benefits it provides for adoptive families, and the clarifications it makes to previous legislation. Many family-law practitioners are expressing concerns that the steep reduction in putative fathers’ rights further erodes the already declining rights of putative fathers in Ohio. To be clear, a “putative father” is one believed to be the father of a child born out of wedlock (without benefit of marriage), unless proved otherwise.
What does HB 307 propose for putative fathers?
HB 307 sets forth six (6) substantial changes to the present statutes governing adoptions. The first change, and arguably the most important, is that it requires putative fathers to bring a contest to an adoption proceeding within 60 days. The previous code required putative fathers to bring contests within one (1) year of notice. This is clearly a significant reduction in time! This ten (10) month reduction in time clearly favors adoptive parents and is punitive to putative fathers.
The second proposed change reduces the time in which a putative father must register with the Putative Father Registry for the State of Ohio. Under O.R.C. 3107.062, in order for a putative father to preserve his right to give consent to an adoption, he must register with the named Registry within thirty (30) days of the child’s birth. Under the new proposed legislation, he must register within seven (7) days of the child’s birth, reducing the allotted time by twenty-three (23) days. If the father fails to register within the proposed seven (7) day time period, his consent is not required when the adoption proceeding takes place. This second reduction in time is also favorable to adoptive parents and unfavorable to putative fathers.
The third proposed change requires birth mothers to send notices to all putative fathers to register with Ohio’s Putative Father Registry. This requirement is intended to impose the previously discussed time requirements. Upon the birth of the child, the clock immediately begins to tick. This ticking clock scenario creates a very short response time period that the putative father must follow in order to have any chance of retaining parental rights regarding the child.
The fourth proposed change creates a definition of “living expenses” and describes how they are to be paid to the birth mother. Under current Ohio law, the adoptive parents are able to pay for medical expenses of the mother, attorney fees and court costs associated with the adoption process, and up to $3,000 to the birth mother for “living expenses”. HB 307 expands the definition of “living expenses” and includes three new additions to the statute. The additions are as follows:
- Rent or mortgage payments.
- Utility payments.
- Payments for the birth mother’s sustenance and safety, including but not limited to, food, household goods, personal care items, and the cost of transportation to and from work or school.
This expanded definition of “living expenses” is favorable to birth mothers as the adoptive parents are legally permitted to pay for more of the mother’s living expenses and necessities.
The fifth proposed change creates the right for certain agencies to advertise adoption services to “qualified adoptive parents.” Previously, limitations relative to advertising were imposed on agencies other than private child placement agencies. HB 307 expands advertising to birth parents and qualified adoptive parents. This expansion in advertising is favorable to both birth parents and qualified adoptive parents as it enables information about adoption services to reach more persons who may be seeking to adopt and those birth parents who are contemplating offering their child to be adopted. There are still limitations on advertising as both prospective adoptive parents and birth parents are prohibited from requesting or offering money for adoption. We have a very strict public policy regarding the ban on “buying and selling babies and/or children”!
The sixth and final proposed change creates a much larger tax credit for adoptive parents. There is a significant difference between a “tax deduction” and a “tax credit.” A tax deduction does just that; it deducts or subtracts an amount certain from your taxable income, while a tax credit provides a reduction in the amount of your income taxes. For example, if you are in a 25% income tax bracket, and receive a $1,000 tax deduction, you are able to reduce your tax bill by $250. But, with a $1,000 tax credit, you are able to reduce your tax bill by the sum certain of $1,000.
In the proposed legislation, the tax credit for adopting a child has increased from $1,500 to the sum of $10,000. The bill also creates a scenario that allows the adoptive parents to apply the $10,000 tax credit over a five (5) year period of time. The increase in the income tax credit ($8,500) is very favorable to adoptive parents as it lessens the expenses associated with their adoption of a child.
Proposed Adoption Changes – Analysis
HB 307 contains a multitude of proposed changes to the adoption law(s) in the State of Ohio. Some of the changes are beneficial to the adoption process. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the changes to limit the rights of putative fathers by decreasing the time they have to contest an adoption proceeding and by decreasing the number of days within which they must register with the Putative Father Registry are not beneficial to putative fathers in our state. While the adoption of babies and children is a great thing for society and for children, birth parents should always have the right to raise their child or children if they are willing and able to do so. One vocal critic of HB 307 is Kenneth J. Spicer, the Probate and Juvenile Court Judge for Delaware County, Ohio. He argues that the proposed law invites constitutional challenges from putative fathers in having their names on the Putative Father Registry and in the reduction of time to challenge adoption proceedings. He urged the members of the Probate and Law Committee to advocate for the restoration of the thirty (30) day registration timeframe and to advocate for the restoration of the one (1) year timeframe within which to challenge an adoption proceeding to avoid future constitutional challenges to the law.
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Anne Shale is of counsel to Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues. She is a former registered nurse and concentrates her practice in Family Law and Divorce cases.