The House is considering three bills that would help prevent adoption cases from being contested and held up in court.
Rep. Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) says his legislation comes from the Lentz case, in which a biological father took a case against a baby’s adoptive parents to the Missouri Supreme Court on the grounds that he never agreed to the adoption. Kelly says many cases such as these come forward when a biological parent or parents figure out they can financially gain from holding up the process.
“A woman’s parental rights were … her consent for adoption of the child was irrevocably filed, the court had ruled, she had consented, the adopted child had been living with the adoptive family for almost a year, then she attempted to name a putative father, and he attempted to disrupt the adoption proceedings,” Kelly says. “Either once you have had your rights terminated, finally, or once you have not shown responsibility … it happens regularly that people try to hold the prospective adoption parents up for financial benefit by threatening to disrupt the adoption proceedings.”
Kelly’s bill says a father can establish his interest in the child, legally, by providing support to the child both before and after it is born.
Mary Beck is a law professor at the University of Missouri who specializes in adoption cases. When she was asked by a committee member about biological fathers of children who say they had no knowledge of the pregnancy prior to the adoption, she says current law already addresses that.
“That goes back to part of a stature that was passed years ago,” she told the House Committee on Children and Families. “It says that every man, who has sexual intercourse with a woman is on notice that she may become pregnant. So for him to say he didn’t know doesn’t work in Missouri, as well as about 20 other states. so he is liable to provide support for this child, prenatally, under this bill, because he is on notice.”
Beck says the legislation helps protect the rights and decisions of all parties involved, the birth mother, the biological father and the adoptive parents.
AUDIO: Jessica Machetta reports (1:14)
Lentze tells Missourinet Rep. Chris Kelly is lying and exploiting his case. Craig Lentze — the biological father — says the mother of the child was coerced into giving up her son by her church. He says the Missouri Supreme Court sided with him in the case, and that Kelly’s proposed law would weaken a father’s right to his child. As for financial gain, he says it cost him more than a million dollars to get his son back, so that argument doesn’t hold water.
Lentze says Kelly misrepresented the facts surrounding the case before a committee that heard testimony on the measure. He believes the bill is being proposed for lobbyists who want to protect the best interest of adoption agencies, not biological parents and children.
Senate measure would reform identifying information laws
Sen. John Lamping (R-Ladue) has filed three pieces of legislation that would reform the state’s law on letting adoptees seek their identifying information.
Lamping says he’s following up on legislation filed in the 2011 legislative session. Senate Bill 713, would add clarity to SB 351, which allows adoptees to obtain information on their biological parents if they can obtain consent from the parent or prove the parent was deceased or unknown. Lamping says this would help clarify situations in which there is no death certificate to prove a biological parent is deceased and no evidence, after a reasonable investigation is conducted, to prove the parent is still alive.
Similar measures have been proposed in years past, but have not been signed into law. Such legislation has received support from various advocacy groups, birth parents, adoptees and adoptive parents, some for life-or-death medical situations. One group has staunchly opposed releasing identifying information on the basis that a parent’s right to privacy would be compromised, and that is the Catholic Church.
Other adoption reform legislation is “aimed at getting more Missouri orphans in adoptive homes by increasing the efficiency of the process,” Lamping says. “My goal is to help parents experience the miracle of adoption and children to find forever homes.”
The adoption process can currently take up to two years or more. Senate Bill 711 would help expedite the process by prohibiting the court from using the race of a child, of the biological parents or of the potential adoptive parents as a consideration when placing a child with adoptive parents.
Another bill, Senate Bill 712, would modify the Special Needs Adoption Tax Credit by prohibiting a child’s ethnic background, or membership in a minority group, from being the sole factor used to consider the child as “special needs.” Lamping says under this bill, a child will still be considered a “special needs child” if he or she has a specific factor or condition, such as age, membership in a sibling group, medical condition or handicap because of which it would be reasonable to conclude the child cannot easily be placed with adoptive parents.