"It's My Baby Too!": Lawyers and What Now?"

What Now?

Dr. Phil asks Esther's lawyer, "Susan, is this good public policy? Is this a fair deal?"

"It is," she says. "A father can file a piece of paper during the
pregnancy to put everyone on notice that he wants to be part of any process, whether it's establishing paternity, challenging an adoption, or if the father doesn't figure that out, doesn't hire a lawyer, doesn't file the piece of paper, it isn't over. That's why we had a trial. Then the court looks at: Did he contribute to the support of the child? Did he try?"

"Did you know about this registry?" Dr. Phil asks her.

"No," Susan says.

"You're a lawyer licensed in Oregon, and you didn't know about this registry, and you expect him to?" Dr. Phil says, referring to Bryce.

"Actually, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that ignorance is no excuse," she says.

"Foster, you're on the other side of this argument. You say this law is unconstitutional," Dr. Phil says. "Am I wrong in saying that our laws generally need to comport with good public policy?"

"You're not wrong at all, Dr. Phil," Foster says. He confirms that the adoption isn't final yet.
"And listen, what you're doing is asserting the law as it exists, correct?" Dr. Phil asks Susan. "The law is the law, and that's your point. It's on the books, and that's the law."

"And it's beyond that. I want all of us to remember this child," she says.

"Yeah, I'm wondering if anybody is interested in what's happened to this child, and I'm wondering if somebody wants to explain to this child when she turns 14, 15, 18 years old, ‘The reason that you don't know or get to know the father is because there's a loophole in the Oregon law that excluded [your father] because [he] didn't register somewhere that [he was] supposed to register," Dr. Phil says. He tells Bryce, "I'm sorry, but I'm not saying you're a fit father. I don't know whether you are or whether you're not. There are big question marks, but you seem to have your heart in the right place, but that's a long way from doing the right job. I'm questioning whether there is a fair due process that has taken place here to exclude those rights."

Mel Feit, a fathers' rights advocate from the National Center for Men joins the show via satellite. He tells Dr. Phil, "It's not just an Oregon law. There are Putative Father Registry laws in about 25 states. No one knows what the registries are, no one knows how to use them " people don't even know what the word putative means. As far as I can tell, the only practical and logical purpose of these laws is to prevent and make it more difficult for fathers to exercise their rights to be involved with their children when the mothers don't want them to be. The only purpose of it is to make it more difficult for fathers to prevent adoptions."


He continues, "Look, the question of Bryce's fitness is relevant, but that's for a family court judge to make. As far as I can tell, no one appointed Esther's parents or her lawyer a family court judge, and the decision of his fitness should've been made after a full custody hearing," Mel says. "There's no doubt whatsoever in my mind that, even now, let's say that Bryce didn't want to be a father, and someone walked into a court in Oregon and said, ‘Well, we want child support from you,' but Bryce said, ‘You know, I really didn't sign on to the Putative Fathers Registry.' There is no doubt in my mind the judge would say, ‘Putative father what? What kind of registry are you talking about?' The word putative wouldn't be used to describe him; he would be called a deadbeat dad. We have a really schizophrenic approach in this country. We say we want fathers to be important, but then we make it difficult for them to be involved in their kids' lives."

"You're saying that you could be excluded because you don't register but then held responsible for child support on the other end," Dr. Phil says. "That seems crazy."

"Absolutely," Mel agrees. "I'm not convinced that Bryce is out of the woods yet. If years down the road something were to happen to the adoptive parents, and the child would become a ward of the state, I think Oregon could come in and require Bryce to pay child support."

"I ask you, Dylane, as a dad of a daughter, do you have any empathy for where he is in this situation at all?" Dr. Phil asks.

"To a point. I don't know why he's trying to do what he's doing, but he said he did not want the child," Dylane says.

"But if he doesn't want the child, he's sure going through an awful lot of trouble to assert it," Dr. Phil points out.

"Right. I don't understand that myself," he says.

Dr. Phil asks Esther, Dylane and Vada, "You three are in the position of having unfettered access to this child right now, right? You get to see the baby, right?"

"Yes," Esther says. She says she visits a couple times a month.

"Mel, you look like you're about to pop," Dr. Phil observes.

"I must've missed some place in the introduction where Esther's father was appointed a family court judge in the state of Oregon," Mel says. "It wasn't your call to make. It should've been up to a judge to make this decision, and if anyone has any doubts about the obscurity about these registries, do this experiment: call Directory Assistance. Ask the operator for the number of a Putative Fathers Registry. They won't know what you're talking about. They won't know the number. They won't know where to go. No one knows about these. These laws are only used to prevent biological fathers from exercising their rights. There is no other purpose for them."

Susan tells Dr. Phil, "Earlier, you mentioned public policy driving our laws. Everyone needs to remember that the reason that we have these laws is to protect the child. It's to give the child stability. How do we put limits on this? A baby gets placed for adoption. In this case, the baby has been with these parents almost since birth. So what? We suddenly give someone else rights and yank the baby away?" Susan asks.

"Here's the answer. It's very simple," Mel says. "When a single, unwed mother gives birth to a baby, ask her who the father is and call him up and say, ‘What do you think? Do you want your kid placed for adoption?' Not only do we not require her to give the name, the law in Oregon specifically says she doesn't have to give the name. You know what? I think she should have to give the name of the father. And let's call him up and find out because that would solve a lot of problems."

Dr. Phil goes back over the law. "You've got to register to acknowledge that you are the father, and then you have to follow certain rules for making contributions to that child's well-being, financial contributions, for one year, and that begins at the date of conception. Is that right, Susan?" Dr. Phil asks.

"It doesn't have to be financial contributions, and it doesn't have to be in addition to registering. Registering is one option," she says. "Because people don't know about the registry, fathers can do what would come naturally to a biological father who is no longer romantically involved with the mom and do something. Set up a bank account, write letters, make it really clear that you're going to take responsibility for this child. That never happened."

"But the court decided that the phone records of numerous calls across time did not satisfy that, so therefore they terminated his rights to challenge the adoption," Dr. Phil says.

"The phone records were evidence, according to the court, of Bryce wanting to maintain an intimate relationship with a young, beautiful woman," Susan says.

"Actually, at one point, Esther threatened abortion to me, said she had an appointment because she was sick of me always calling, and always asking about the pregnancy and never asking about her," Bryce points out.

"You never once asked me about the pregnancy," Esther argues. "Every time you called, it was if I have another boyfriend. If I had another boyfriend, was I sleeping with him? It was one redundant phone call after the other. That's why I stopped answering your phone calls."

"I asked you about the baby, and you threatened abortion," he says.

"Where do we go from here?" Dr. Phil asks Susan. "I know you represent Esther and certainly not Bryce or the adoptive parents, but if I was the adoptive parent in this situation, I would really be standing up on my rights, because if I'd spent five months with this baby, that'd be my baby, and I don't think I'd be up for somebody pulling that away from me. I'm not sure that's in the baby's best interests. But what happens now at this point, Susan? They can appeal if they want to appeal?" Dr. Phil asks.

"They can file an appeal," she says.

Foster assures everyone that that's what they're going to do.

"Mel, what can happen here? What can Bryce do?" Dr. Phil asks.

"There are grounds for appeal," Mel says. "I'm not optimistic about this though, so it's important to address what happens in terms of the policy for the future. First of all, be on notice, single men: The sad reality is that every time you have sex with a woman, the next day, you have to go find out where there's a Putative Fathers Registry in your state, and you have to sign up! That's the sad reality of the situation. The better approach would be to change the law. Get rid of the registries and do this: Make it a requirement that a woman name the father and that the father be notified. It really shouldn't be his burden to guess about whether he's a dad."