Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Father loses bid to overturn Utah adoption

From the Salt Lake Tribune:
The Utah Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a Virginia father’s appeal to overturn the adoption of his daughter, a child known as “Baby Emma,” finding he did not meet required deadlines for asserting his parental rights.

* * *

In Virginia, Wyatt said he was not surprised by the decision.

“This is what Utah does,” he said. “They steal people’s babies. It is like a big game to these people.”

* * *

Jeri Wyatt, John’s mother, said she was “just heartbroken. We’re not stopping and we’re going to fight like hell to get that baby back. They are not going to steal this baby because that’s all it is — a kidnapping. Shame on Utah for crafting biased, unconstitutional laws against unmarried biological fathers. The state of Utah has been doing this for years and they’ll continue doing it, and somebody has to stop it.”

* * *

Utah’s statute requires unmarried biological fathers to follow a strict time frame, regardless of where they reside or where a child is born, to preserve any right to object to an adoption. The biological father must show he did not and could not have known an adoption was being considered; begin court proceedings to establish his paternity before a birth mother gives consent for an adoption to proceed; and demonstrate he is fully committed to assuming his parental responsibilities, such as paying for pregnancy related expenses.

At least half a dozen unmarried biological fathers have waged unsuccessful efforts to stop adoptions in Utah. In one case, the court found a father was on notice when his pregnant girlfriend told him she was in Utah; in another, the court said a father failed to adequately show how he would provide for a child.
Utah's law is not that unusual in putting up near-impossible hurdles for unmarried fathers interested in parenting their children when the birth mother wants to place the child for adoption. 

Since Lehr v. Robertson, from the U.S. Supreme Court, approved a state requirement that the father file in the state's paternity registry as the exclusive way to assert a desire to parent, that's pretty much the default rule in most states.  The facts in Lehr are telling;  the mother and her new husband were aware than the bio dad opposed the adoption by the new husband, the bio dad had filed a paternity action in another court, and the judge of the adoption court knew that he had done so.  Still, since he failed to file in the paternity registry, the Supreme Court said he had failed to grasp his opportunity interest in being a parent.

So to grasp his opportunity interest in being a parent, an unmarried father must file in a state's paternity registry.  How many people do you suppose know this?  And where to file?  For this Virginia dad, where the sex happened in Virginia and the birth happened in Virginia, how is he to know to file in Utah?

And what about the father who doesn't know the woman he slept with is pregnant, much less contemplating adoption?  The courts say sex is notice! 

So I tell my male students that they should send in notice to the paternity registry in all 50 states any and every time they have sex with a woman they're not married to if they want to protect their rights as potential fathers!  Of course, that's a pretty ridiculous thing to do, and even if you have no sympathy for the hound-dog bio father, think how it violates the privacy rights of the women who are not pregnant or contemplating adoption when he dutifully sends in his postcard claiming paternity in a sex-as-notice world.

The bio father can also grasp his opportunity interest by having a relationship with the child, something a little difficult to do in newborn adoption, huh?  He can also prepare himself to parent -- setting up a nursery, putting the child on his insurance, etc.  But he has to know she's pregnant, right?  He can also be financially and emotionally supportive of the mother during the pregnancy, but that requires her to cooperate, and sometimes she doesn't want to.  And the biggie -- he can marry her!  Again, something she may not be inclined to do. So a lot of these things are kind of out of the father's hands.  We set standards that are pretty difficult to meet, especially in newborn adoption.

When we talk about birth mothers in my Adoption Law class, I ask the students to give me the first words that come to mind when they hear the phrase "birth mother."  I usually get words like loving, young, overwhelmed -- generally sympathetic words.  When I ask for the same thing for "birth father," I get uncaring, disinterested, not nurturing.  Those words say it all, right?  That attitude explains our legal treatment of birth fathers.  We assume he's not interested in parenting or competent to parent.  No problem, then, in having laws that ignore his role completely.

Those laws won't change so long as the attitude remains the same.


Anonymous said...

This verdict deeply saddens me. Virginia ruled he did everything right. The baby was born in Virginia for goodness sake. How on earth can anyone say with a straight face that this is right? Or that ethics exist in Utah or even other states?

I cannot imagine the fall out when this child searches (ya perhaps the child won't) and finds out her story? Even a quick google search will produce the evidence.

Ethics in adoption? Where?

Disgusted that all the AP's and PAPs are not standing up, joining forces and saying this crosses a line and we don't want our adoptions tainted with this kind of crap - because they will be tainted guaranteed. Just look at history - adoptees from Tn Georgia Tann era - will always question if they were bought/stolen and sold. Adoptees from the BSE - will always question if their mother was forced. Adoptees from Guat, Nepal, Vietnam, Cambodia and now Ethiopia to list just a few countries - will always question the story.

When will AP's and PAPs stand up as one and be the solution? AP's are the only ones who can FIX this from continuing but apparently that just will never happen. And never hold your breath that the industry will - why would they compromise their profits?

Sorry - just pisses me off.

Jonalyn said...

Ugh! How stupid is this? It just seems like a no-brainer that you'd have to get both mother and father to sign off on an adoption. I realize that sometimes a mother might not be able to track the father down, but she'd darn well better provide proof that she tried to find him and let him know. And once he knows, no adoption moves forward unless he agrees. If I were an AP (well, I am, but different circumstances) I would want to make certain the father was well aware of what was going on. How could you not?

Bob said...

US Presidential Candidates Mitt Romney and Former Utah baby stealing Governor Jon Huntsman are both Mormons who promote this kind of violence against men and our families.

Anonymous said...

As an AP we had to meet both Texas adoption laws (birthstate) and Florida (our resident state)adoption laws before we were allowed to travel. Maybe we just had GREAT adoption agencies (1 in each state). This is a heartbreaking situation all around.

Anonymous said...

no morals in Utah

Anonymous said...

I am shocked to know our country our presidents allow Utah to steal babies. If I were the adoptive parents and I found out the child I have is not mine to have I would give it back. There are many babies that dont have parents who want them, they can take one of those. Stealing thrives I say. I want to sue the state my self just hearing of such stories. And the attorney genral and his children, they were probably stolen too. We have to do something to stop this.
The adoption agency needs to be jailed for what they are doing. But there money to be made in stealing babies right? Down right criminals. Those babies are going to grow up and sue that state and possibly there adopted baby stealing parents. I am outraged. Were talking about peoples flesh and blood here, not property. Those children belong with there dads.

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