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October 19th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
A Texas man stopped the adoption of his daughter, but still plays second-fiddle to the couple who tried to adopt her. They have custody; he has visitation rights and pays them child support. Apparently, so does the mother who tried to circumvent his rights and place the girl for adoption without his knowledge.
Not long ago, the California legislature passed a law, subsequently vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown, that would have allowed more than two people to be a child’s “parents.” But Texas has gone them one better. Adrian Ortiz’s daughter has four.
It all started back in 2009. He and his girlfriend, Gabriella Martinez, had dated for many months when she became pregnant. They talked excitedly between themselves about raising their new baby when she arrived. They told his parents who immediately offered their home for the couple to live in. They and other relatives bought gifts for the baby and furnished a room for her. That was in August of 2009. Ortiz accompanied Martinez to her first doctor’s appointment and saw the first ultrasound of his growing child. He was elated and looked forward to Martinez’s due date which was February 2, 2010.
But by September, she’d cut off all communication with Ortiz and, unknown to him, already started the process of adoption. She contacted the Little Flower Adoption Agency in Dallas and met with the owner, attorney David Cole. She filled out their various forms on which she named Ortiz as the father and said she didn’t know if he would agree to the adoption of his daughter or not. Little Flower had a family in mind, a Florida couple named Carlos and Barbara Gomez, who were thrilled at the prospect of adopting a newborn. But once they learned that there was a father who might want his child, they started to get cold feet. The Gomez’s emails to Cole reveal their concerns, but he assured them that Ortiz’s “consent is not required.”
Cole’s emails to Martinez strongly suggest – without explicitly saying – that Ortiz was to be kept in the dark about the adoption and that, once the adoption was complete, he’d be unable to assert his rights. When it came to the legal case, Cole refused to notify Ortiz that his child was being handed over to strangers. In short, Cole technically toed the legal line while obliterating the ethical one.
Texas has a putative father registry called the Texas Paternity Registry. Any single man who thinks he’s fathered a child has to file a form with the Texas Paternity Registry prior to the 31st day after his child’s birth. If he fails to do so, he is not entitled to notice of the child’s adoption. The Texas Paternity Registry is a closely-guarded secret. The state expends no funds to publicize the Registry or to inform Texas’ men how it can affect their parental rights. Several years ago, I did an informal survey of 100 adult males in Houston. Not one had ever heard of the Texas Paternity Registry.
And neither had Adrian Ortiz. It didn’t help that Martinez gave birth to their daughter two weeks ahead of the February 2nd due date. Assuming he had until then or later to assert his rights to the child, Ortiz waited until late February to contact an attorney who acted immediately by filing suit for paternity. Little did he know that Little Flower had turned the child over to the Gomezes immediately after her birth on January 19th. Ortiz was too late.
Only a legal technicality – defective service of notice – gave Ortiz a chance to reverse the adoption that had already been completed. The same judge who issued the order terminating his rights and establishing Carlos and Barbara Gomez as the child’s parents, eventually voided that order, but, amazingly enough, that didn’t mean Adrian Ortiz got custody of the little girl who was once again legally his. No, in yet another twist of legal fate, Texas law allows anyone who’s cared for a child for six months to claim parental rights. The Gomezes qualified, so now the child lives with them, Ortiz and Martinez each has visitation and Ortiz pays child support to the Gomezes. Whether Martinez does or not, seems to be a mystery.
In the end, Ortiz filed suit against Little Flower Adoption Agency for intentionally depriving him of his parental rights. He settled the case for $25,000.
Adoption Laws Deny Parental Rights to Fit Fathers
It’s a remarkable case. It seems the more states bend over backward to deny parental rights to fit fathers, the more complicated and anomalous legal results become. This little girl literally has four legal parents and some child somewhere has none. There are far more children – both in the country and the world – who need adoption than there are parents to adopt them. Parents like the Gomezes are, therefore, a scarce resource, that the State of Texas allowed to be wasted on a child who has a fit father yearning to care for her. It’s an act for which the approximately 425,000 children in the United States who have no parents to care for them, won’t thank the state.
And it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this outrageously fouled up case, and others no less so, came about solely because the state refuses to grant fathers basic parental rights. One of those is the right to be informed of the existence of his child and an opportunity to be its parent. It’s such a modest thing to ask for, and yet not a single state in the nation grants the right. If Martinez or Little Flower had been required to tell Ortiz about her intention to place the child for adoption, he’d have stepped up and seized his opportunity, as he attempted to do in the absence of that requirement. That would have freed the Gomezes to adopt a child who had no caring father like Adrian Ortiz.
Until fathers are given basic parental rights, the type of outrage that was perpetrated against Adrian Ortiz and his daughter will happen time and time again. It’s a disgrace that the passage of a few simple laws would rectify. And passage of those laws requires only one thing – respect for fathers as the caring, responsible people the vast majority of them are.
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