Court says: Facebook not appropriate for delivering paternity news

In the age of social media and cellphone technology, it is more important than ever to choose an appropriate way to communicate certain information. If you are going to break up with a long-term partner, for instance, most people believe it should only be done in person – no texting, no emailing and no phone calls.

Communicating too casually for the news being delivered is a social faux pas, but it can also create legal snags in certain circumstances. In a recent case that some consider a victory for the cause of fathers’ rights, a state Supreme Court overturned lower court rulings to terminate a man’s parental rights. The Court found that the Facebook message he received notifying him that he was going to father a child was insufficient notice and violated his constitutional rights.

In late 2011, the man was involved in a two- or three-month sexual relationship with the baby’s mother. Then, they apparently broke up and contact became minimal. They met one more time in person, and she allegedly never told him during that meeting that she was pregnant with his child.

She did, however, send him a Facebook message at some point. In that message, the woman told him she planned to have the baby but would put it up for adoption. Because he does not frequently use the social networking site, the man says he didn’t learn about his baby daughter until a week after she was born in June 2012. He allegedly didn’t even see the Facebook message until sometime during the next month.

The baby’s adoptive parents petitioned the court to terminate the parental rights of both biological parents. The birth mother voluntarily relinquished parental rights and the man’s parental rights were terminated in later court proceedings. An appellate court upheld the termination of the man’s paternity rights.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently reversed these lower court rulings, however. The majority opinion says, in part, that “this court does not believe that attempts to provide notice via Facebook comport with the requirements of due process.”

Cases involving a mother’s unilateral decision to give up a child are sadly common. Hopefully, this state Supreme Court ruling reflects a changing legal climate in which the parental rights of unmarried fathers are recognized and respected.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Facebook Paternity Notice Rejected in Okla.,” Lorraine Bailey, Oct. 16, 2014

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