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S.C. Code Ann. § 63-9-310(A)(5)(b) clearly conditions the necessity of an unwed father's acquiescence in an adoption on his payment of support or financial assistance to the birth mother. It is not enough that the father simply have a desire to raise the child; he must act on that interest and make the material contributions to the child and the mother during her pregnancy required of a father-to-be. Accordingly, a father's attempts to assert his parental rights are insufficient to protect his relationship with the minor child unless accompanied by a prompt, good-faith effort to assume responsibility for either a financial contribution to the child's welfare or assistance in paying for the birth mother's pregnancy or childbirth expenses.
Five or six months into the mother's pregnancy, the father, Craig Reeves, first informed her he wanted custody and told her to stop the adoption she had planned. During her pregnancy, he made a one-time offer of $ 100 for support of the child, which she refused. After the child was born, she refused to see him when he visited the hospital and signed an adoption consent form; appellants, adoptive parents, took the child home. He retained an attorney and sought emergency relief. The trial court awarded appellants temporary custody and, after the father's paternity was established, awarded him visitation and ordered him to pay child support. He fell in arrears on his child support and did not cure the arrearage until just before the consent hearing. The family court found that unwed father had undertaken sufficient prompt and good faith efforts to assume parental responsibility as required by S.C. Code Ann. § 63-9-310(A)(5)(b) such that his consent was required for appellants to adopt his and mother's child. Accordingly, it ordered that the child be placed in the father's custody. Appellants sought review.
Did the family court err in finding that the Father was required to consent to the adoption of the child?
The appellate court reversed the trial court and ordered that custody be returned to appellants. According to the court, the record did not support the conclusion that Father has undertaken a sufficient effort to make the sacrifices fatherhood demanded. The constitutional protection of a father's relationship with his child would be extended not only when he met the literal requirements of § 63-9-310(A)(5)(b), but also when he has undertaken sufficient prompt and good faith efforts to assume parental responsibility and to comply with § 63-9-310(A)(5)(b). In this case, the court determined that the father had the means and opportunity to provide more, but he simply chose not to and to relied on others to provide for the mother. Even though she rebuked some of his efforts, that did not alleviate or in any way mitigate the father’s obligation. The court averred that the fact that the father now wished to raise his son did not overcome his lack of support and contribution while the mother was carrying his child or after he was born. In short, the father did not fully grasp the opportunity to come forward and demonstrate a full commitment to the responsibilities of parenthood through prompt and good faith efforts. Thus, the father's contributions were not sufficient compliance with § 63-9-310(A)(5)(b) to establish his right to consent to the adoption of this minor child.