Today’s Latin Lingo goes out to all those surprised Virginia Dads out there: Ignorantia Juris Non Excusat, which roughly translates to “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” It is, sadly, a reason given when surprised Virginia Dads find out they are, in fact, Dads. We are not here to tell you when to keep your pants zipped, but if you do dally with a filly in a relationship leading to a baby, you may lose any chance of being a real father to that child. Why? Because many Virginia men know nothing of the Putative Father Registry, and their offspring can be adopted without them ever having a say.

The Putative Father Registry

The Code of Virginia has an entire “article,” Article 7 of Chapter 12, establishing the Putative Father Registry, or Virginia Birth Father Registry. It is a noble aspiration: Virginia’s men admit through a government program to having sex outside of marriage with Virginia women and, should those Virginia women produce little Virgils and Veronicas, the men are informed. This, supposedly, gives the men the opportunity to claim status as the children’s fathers.

Yes. Well. A modern-day electronic confessional of extramarital intercourse maintained by a state agency. What could possibly go wrong about that?

Since 2006 this “confidential database” has existed under the auspices of the Virginia Department of Social Services (DSS). DSS is charged not only with maintaining the Registry but also advertising its existence, according to § 63.2-1253, to include a “pamphlet or other publication” and “general public service announcements.”

Many Virginia men may have last encountered a “pamphlet” on their pillows when their ever-helpful parents placed one there to explain the agonies of puberty without all the blushing.

Few Virginia men seem to be lining up to grab up that Registry pamphlet or tap into the benefits of the Registry, which DSS lists as:

  1. Protect your paternal rights to be a part of your child’s life
  2. Prevent the adoption of your child without your knowledge
  3. Enhance your and/or your family’s opportunities co-parenting or visiting your child

Claiming Ignorance Won’t Cut It with the Courts

Your ignorance of this Registry could lead to some unfortunate circumstances. Say you dangled your dongle and moved on. Nine months later unto you a child is born, but you know nothing about it for weeks and weeks. You surrendered your rights as a father when you failed to register with DSS. The child, born to a single mother, could be placed for adoption without your knowledge or permission.

Many men are happy to sow their seeds in various … garden spots … without a care about the … er … plants that spring up (?). They move on to find their next … row to hoe (??). Yikes! The metaphor is at a breaking point, so here’s the nitty-gritty: Some Virginia men are indiscriminate and careless about unprotected sex outside of marriage. They simply do not care if they leave a woman struggling as a single parent. Their behavior may not be illegal, but for many men, it is immoral.

Some Virginia men want to be responsible. They may have strayed outside their marriage one time and worry about the damage done. They may hear about an old flame who, they suspect, is pregnant with their child. These are the men who will register with DSS.

They want to be responsible not only to the woman, but to the child as well. So they complete Form 032-02-0500-02-eng (07/17) and send it off to DSS before the child is born, within 10 days of the child’s birth, or within 10 days of learning the mother misrepresented facts of the birth (i.e., she claimed she miscarried, aborted, or delivered stillborn).

Leaving Yourself Unprotected

Without submitting Form 032-02-0500-02-eng (07/17) to DSS, you have no protection from having the child you fathered with the woman not your wife from being adopted by anyone she wishes. That may be fine with many Virginia men, but many men would like to have healthy, supportive relationships with their children, no matter the circumstances of their conception.

Virginia recognizes the need for stability and security in a child’s life, so adoption rights supersede paternal rights if the father is unknown or cannot be located. In order to provide the strongest possible start for the child, Virginia allows the birth mother to place the child up for adoption without the consent of the father under § 63.2-1233:

“The consent of a birth father who is not married to the mother of the child at the time of the child’s conception or birth shall not be required if the putative father named by the birth mother denies under oath and in writing the paternity of the child or if the putative father did not register with the Virginia Birth Father Registry.”

Though we often wish the world were binary — a yes or a no, a thumbs up or thumbs down — at The Firm For Men we know all too often the law is nuanced. Please contact us online or by telephone at 757-383-9184 to speak with family law attorneys who can help make sense of issues like the Putative Father Registry and other peculiar Virginia institutions.

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