What is a Putative Father and a Putative Father Registry?

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If you’re wondering “What is a putative father registry?” (or just what is a putative father generally), we’re here to clear that up for you. The term “putative” means that the putative thing is generally considered to be, or reputed to be, whatever that thing is known to be. So in the case of a putative father it means that the person is generally considered to be the father. But in the legal world this isn’t enough, a father’s paternity must be legally recognized by the fact that the father was married to the child’s mother when the child was conceived or born, or, if they were not married, then proven by legally recognized evidence, such as a DNA test.


Why a Putative Father and Not Just Father

As we discuss in our article about unmarried fathers’ rights, when a couple who were never married have a child and then split up, unless the father is listed as the father on the child’s birth certificate, the father is not legally recognized as that child’s father. Everybody may know that he’s the child’s father (that’s the putative father part), but the law does not recognize him as the father, and he must take affirmative steps to be recognized under the law as the child’s father.

There are generally four ways that a man can be legally recognized as the father of his child: be listed on the birth certificate, be married to the mother at the time of the child’s conception or birth, or have a court recognize him as the father (usually, but not always, following a DNA test). Related to having the court recognize him as the father, the fourth way is to register himself on the putative father registry of the relevant state, if that state has one.

What is a Putative Father Registry?

As the name suggests, a putative father registry is a place where a man can register himself as the father of his child. The requirements vary from state to state (as do the rights and obligations once a father registers on the putative father registry of a given state), and while more than half of the states in the United States maintain putative father registries, eighteen states do not (however some of those states may allow a father to submit an affidavit or other sworn statement of paternity in lieu of their having a putative father registery).

(Go here for a complete list of putative father registries available in each state which maintains one)

For many states the primary purpose of maintaining a putative father registry is not so much to protect the rights of the father as it is to help the state make sure that there is a father to help provide financial support to the child, or in some situations to make sure that there is no father out there to interfere with adoption proceedings.

As the state of Illinois puts it on their website for their putative father registry (they managed to snag the domain PutativeFather.org):

“The Putative Father Registry has five basic functions:

Facilitating the efforts of putative fathers to register with the Putative Father Registry
Maintaining confidentiality of the information provided by putative fathers
Facilitating the efforts of interested parties to search the Registry for putative fathers
Conducting searches of the Registry for interested parties to determine if a father is registered
Providing search results to interested parties”

Regardless of the state’s motive, it’s really important, as a single father who was never married to the mother of his child, to register on that putative father registry if your state has one, and to do it as soon as possible so as to help cement your rights as their father, and to ensure that the courts must legally recognize you as the child’s father in any court actions that affect your child and your rights as their father.

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