For an unwed father who wants to know what to do to protect his parental rights in a Utah adoption proceeding, the process just got easier.
The state Department of Health on Tuesday made the paternity proceeding form and instructions on how to file with Utah's putative father registry available on the website of the Office of Vital Records and Statistics, which maintains the registry.
Department Director David Patton said the change and other reforms were prompted by a recent Salt Lake Tribune series highlighting the difficulty unwed fathers and attorneys especially those from out-of-state had finding information about the registry.
The paternity proceeding form now can be found under the "court orders" link on the Vital Records home page, although the information still doesn't show up when searching the state website for key terms such as "putative father" or "paternity proceeding."
There are plans to add information about how to file with the registry to the website's "frequently asked questions" listing. The form also will now be available at county health departments throughout Utah a measure required by state law the department hadn't followed.
"Frankly, I had not been aware of this issue very much and so the article helped us to review the statute, which I think was our primary concern," Patton said. "We want to be in compliance with the statute."
The online access makes sense, he said.
Since 1975, Utah has required unwed fathers to file with the state in order to receive notice of an adoption proceeding for a biological newborn child. That requirement was strengthened in 1995, when sweeping revisions were made requiring unwed fathers to initiate a paternity action in court and file a "notice of commencement of paternity proceeding" with Vital Records.
But scores of unwed fathers, many of whom live in other states, allege Utah intentionally makes it difficult figure out how to protect their rights when they object to an adoption.
Patton said Tuesday it was his goal to make the form available to anyone who wants it.
"There is no reason to restrict that access," he said. "If we can make it available as many places as feasible, that's not a problem."
The move received cautious support from two lawyers who have been involved in putative father issues.
"The purpose of the putative father registry is to identify putative fathers who are interested in assuming the responsibilities of being a parent in a meaningful and timely way," said David McConkie, now children's services manager at LDS Family Services. "The state's decision to put the registry online will help putative fathers accomplish this and will make adoptive placements more secure."
Daniel Drage, a lawyer who has represented out-of-state fathers in custody fights, called it a "step in the right direction" but also expressed concern.
"These fathers still need to understand that just filing with the registry is not the only step," Drage said. "Some dads may think it is all they need to do. I hope it is not a bit of a pitfall."
Janice Houston, director of Vital Records, said the instruction letter included with the form hopefully alerts fathers they also need to file a paternity action in court. And the form itself asks for the paternity filing case number.
Houston said the form hasn't been available online previously because her office's web page is "very minimal and basic at best" and hasn't "had the resources devoted to it to put a whole lot of information up there beyond the bare minimum."
The office quit providing forms to county health department offices, Houston said, because local offices aren't involved in adoptions and just forward the forms to the state office.
"When the form was there, it wasn't being utilized," she added.
Both Patton and Houston also said Tuesday the form has been available through the courts to print out and give to putative fathers. But a court clerk manager and 3rd District Court administrator both said they were unaware of the forms.
"We don't have a form," said Julie Rigby, team manager of the 3rd District Court's Probate Department, which handles adoption filings. "We would just refer them to the health department. We don't have anything and never had and wish we did, but we don't."
Houston, who became state registrar in March 2010, said it is her policy to give paternity commencement filings "precedence over everything else in the office." "When one of these comes in, it's a drop everything else and put it in," she said. "It doesn't sit in a pile and wait."
The Utah Supreme Court is currently considering a case in which a Florida father alleges the state's four-day work week and a tardy filing of his registration by a Vital Records clerk caused him to lose the right to intervene in his daughter's adoption.
Putative father registry form goes online
O To access the online paternity proceeding form, which can be filled out online and then printed, go to: http://1.usa.gov/wGm4w0