Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Utah, Adoption and Unwed Fathers

Utah is pretty notorious for being harsh with fathers in adoption.  A group of birth fathers sued in 2014, claiming fraud:

Twelve biological fathers whose children were placed for adoption in Utah without their knowledge or consent have filed a federal lawsuit against the state, alleging Utah laws permit "legalized fraud and kidnapping."

The fathers, represented by West Jordan attorney Wes Hutchins, allege that despite knowing about the "gross adoption infirmities" of Utah's laws, two former attorneys general "did nothing for more than a decade to correct the fraud and deception" that led to their children being placed with adoptive families in Utah.

What happened to their sons and daughters was essentially "kidnapping and highly unethical and disruptive placement into adoptive homes without the knowledge or consent of their biological fathers," the lawsuit states.

Utah's laws have created a "confusing labyrinth of virtually incomprehensible legal mandates and nearly impossible deadlines" that amount to unconstitutional violations of the rights of unwed fathers, it states.

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages and a finding that the Utah Adoption Act is unconstitutional.

The lawyer representing the fathers, Wes Hutchins, was formerly president of the Utah Adoption Council who resigned in protest of the treatment of birth fathers in Utah law.

There are some signs that the tide might be turning in Utah, though, with some successes for fathers seeking to challenge adoptions under Utah law.  Terry Achane, whose wife placed their child for adoption without his knowledge, finally succeeded in regaining his daughter after a two-year struggle in Utah courts (yes, you read that right -- this was a married father, not an unwed father, who had to litigate to have his parental rights recognized in a Utah adoption). Robert Manzanares, one of the fathers in the lawsuit mentioned above, secured a ruling from the Utah Supreme Court that allowed him to seek custody of his daughter. Another of the fathers in the lawsuit, Bobby Nevares, also secured a ruling in Utah allowing him to contest the adoption done there when he had acted to preserve his rights in his home state of Colorado. And another father in the lawsuit, John M. Wyatt, won the right to sue the Utah adoption agency in federal court in  his home state of Virginia, though he lost the right to contest the adoption in Utah.

Most recently, just last week, another birth father prevailed in the Utah Supreme Court:

The Utah Supreme Court has given an unwed father another chance to contest the adoption of his daughter, ruling that a notice telling the man what he needed to do to preserve his parental rights did not include required information.

The 5-0 decision says that under the state's Prebirth Notice Statute, the birth father must be told that he will lose certain rights if he fails to complete specific steps within 30 days of getting notice, including acknowledging paternity and filing an affidavit in court that details child care plans.

However, the notice received by Phillip J. James — who said he had intended to raise the child with the mother — said he "may" lose all rights to his child, the court noted.

While parental rights for unwed fathers nationwide are difficult to assert, Utah is definitely the state to watch in the future.


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