Florida Adoption Law Criticized as Privacy Invasion

When baby’s father unknown, mom must publicize sexual past

West Palm Beach, Fla, -–Since Rodger and Dawn Schneider took in baby Neena a year ago, they have taught her to call them mommy and daddy and helped her get over a fear of Mickey Mouse with four trips to Disney World.

The Schneiders would love to adopt the 2-year-old girl given up by a 16-year-old family friend. But they can’t without potentially destroying the young mother’s reputation.

Under Florida law any mother who doesn’t know who fathered her child must bare her sexual history in a newspaper advertisement before an adoption becomes final. The goal is to find the father and stave off custody battles that can break up adoptive families.

The law makes no exception for rape and incest victims or minors like the girl who gave up legal custody of Neena. Adoption advocates have condemned the law as draconian invasion of privacy and say it encourages abortions.

“There’s no comparable law in any other state, and it’s really hard to imagine ho a legislature could pass such a law if they thought about it,” said bob Tuke, president of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys. “It treat women like chattel.”

The law requires a mother to list her name, age and description, along with the names and physical descriptions of any men who could have fathered the child. The ads must be placed in a newspaper in the city where the child was conceived.

For example, Neena’s mother lives in Florida but she would have to run the ad n the New York community where she became pregnant –– and where her friends, classmates and grandmother could see it.

“It’s pathetic what we have to go through,” Rodger Schneider said. “I feel hat all these legislators didn’t take into account how these laws are going to affect not the girls who want the adoptions but also the families who want to adopt.”

Florida has 5000 to 7000 adoptions a year, and 80 percent of them are private. The law, which applies only to private adoptions, took effect last October. Only now are adoptions beginning to be held up in court.

When lawmakers overwhelmingly signed off on the bill last year, the cited the three-year fight over Baby, whose father, a convicted rapist, contested her adoption.

The Florida Supreme court ruled in 1995 that Emily’s adoptive parents should keep her, but told lawmakers to set a deadline for challenging adoptions. The law prohibits anyone form opposing an adoption after two years.

Gov. Jeb Bush, who allowed the legislation to become law without his signature supports a system that allows men believe they might have fathered a child to put their name in confidential registry that must be checked during adoption proceedings.

Adoption proponents say the registry provides the best balance of a father’s and a mother’s privacy.

“How many potential birth fathers comb the newspaper every day to see if they might possibly have a child somewhere? It’s a silly statute,” Tuke said. “But for someone who’s really interested this gives them something to do, and that’s what other states that are sensible have done.”

The Schneiders, who cannot have a child of their own, are putting off Neena’s adoption in hopes that the law will be tossed out. They don’t want to force her mother to detail her past in the newspaper.

For now, they will keep custody of the child.

“The birth father has a right, but where has been? This child is 2 years old,” Rodger Schneider said. “ We want her to be ours, to have our name, but this is nobody’s business except the family’s.”

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