Beginning January 1, 2010, South Carolina implemented a Responsible Father Registry. S.C. Code Ann. § 63-9-820. This registry is designed to allow men who have potentially fathered a child to register as the child’s possible father. The purpose of the registry is to simplify notice requirements for termination of parental rights and adoptions proceedings. With a few exceptions, the registry is not available for public inspection and is not subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
Prior to the creation of this registry potential fathers needed to be provided notice of adoption or termination of parental rights hearings. This created difficulties when the birth mother did not know or would not reveal the name of the father or did not know where the father currently lived, and numerous “John Doe” notices were published in local newspapers to provide “notice” of these proceedings–delaying and greatly increasing the costs associated with adoptions.
Men who are recorded on the child’s birth certificate as the father, have been judicially determined to be the father, are living with the child or the child’s mother at the time an adoption proceeding is commenced and hold themself out as the child’s father, or have been identified as the child’s father by the mother in a sworn, written statement do not have to register in order to protect their rights to notice of adoption and termination of parental rights proceedings. S.C. Code Ann. § 63-9-730. However men who do not meet any of these criteria and have not registered as putative fathers are not entitled to notice of adoption or termination of parental rights proceedings.
Attorneys handling adoption or termination of parental rights proceedings in which the father does not meet any of the criteria of § 63-9-730 will now submit a written request to the Department of Social Services for information regarding any registered fathers. If no claim of paternity for the registrant is found, the department shall issue a certificate of diligent search verifying that a search of the registry has been conducted and that no claim of paternity regarding that registrant or child was found. Should the department issue a certificate of diligent search, the attorney for the requesting party in an adoption proceeding or in a termination of parental rights proceeding shall file the certificate of diligent search with the court in which the proceeding is pending within ten days of receipt of the certificate. No notice would then need to be provided to a father who otherwise does not meet the criteria of § 63-9-730.
However should the department located a registered father, that registrant must be served with notice of any adoption proceeding and any termination of parental rights proceeding involving any child identified in the registrant’s filed claim of paternity within ten days of receipt of the registrant’s name and address by the attorney or child-placing agency.
Thus, rather than providing notice to all potential fathers in an adoption proceeding, under this new Responsible Father Registry attorneys in adoptions will only need to provide notice to fathers who have acquired legal rights to the child under § 63-9-730 or fathers who have registered. Potential fathers who want their rights protected can protect these rights by registering and adoptions will be easier and less expensive because attorneys will no longer have to try to serve fathers whose whereabouts are unknown.