Measuring Fatherhood: “Consent Fathers” and Discrimination in Termination of Parental Rights Proceedings
In New York State, unmarried fathers have only tentative rights to parent their children. Unmarried fathers, unlike mothers and married fathers, must prove that they are “consent fathers”—that is, a father who pays child support and maintains contact with his children—before they are allowed to intervene in adoption proceedings. While this makes sense in a private adoption scenario, in which the interests and rights of the mother must be balanced against those of the father, and in which the State has a substantial interest in promoting already intact families, the same analysis should not be unthinkingly applied to termination of parental rights proceedings, as it is now. Unlike the private adoption scenario, a termination of parental rights proceeding involves very different interests on the part of the mother and the State as well as a completely different analysis of what may be best for children. I argue that unmarried fathers should be given the protections in termination of parental rights proceedings that are automatically afforded mothers because the law as it currently stands works against the State’s interest in promoting unified families and violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.