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December 6th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
A Utah trial judge has stopped an attempted adoption dead in its tracks.  In his 48-page opinion, Judge Darold McDade slammed the adoption agency and would-be adoptive parents saying he was “astonished and deeply concerned” about their behavior.  The father’s attorneys are more direct, calling the entire process “human trafficking.”  Read about it here (Salt Lake Tribune, 12/3/12).

I’ve written many articles about many different adoption cases in which the State of Utah’s bizarre and labyrinthine laws effectively thwart single fathers from gaining custody of their children once mothers decide on adoption.  Indeed, mothers come from all over the country to have adoption agencies in Utah conduct the adoptions of their children.  John Wyatt’s girlfriend was in Virginia, Ramsey Shaud’s traveled all the way from Florida while others came from Colorado, Wyoming and other states.  Of course all of those states have laws permitting and even encouraging the adoption of children, so the question arises, “why go all the way to Utah?”

The answer is that, as easy as most states make it to adopt away an unmarried father’s child, Utah makes it virtually impossible for him to stop the adoption and gain custody of his child.  Thus Utah has become the state of choice for moms bent on denying dads a say in the adoption of their children.

But this most recent case is even more outrageous than most.  That’s because the little girl’s father, Terry Achane and mother, Tira Bland, were married when she was conceived and when she was born.  Throughout the United States, married and unmarried fathers are treated differently regarding their parental rights.  A married father automatically has rights and duties toward any child born to his wife.  An unmarried father does not.  He has to go to court and prove (a) that he’s biologically the father and, depending on the situation, (b) his fitness as a father, (c) that he didn’t abandon the child (d) that he attempted to marry the mother, (e) that he supported the mother during pregnancy, and the like.  Much of that of course depends on whether the mother wants him to have contact with the child.  If she keeps the child secret from the father, there’s precious little he can do to assert his rights.  Of course different states require different things, but generally speaking, single fathers have to jump through legal hoops that married fathers don’t.

And of course unmarried mothers and unmarried fathers are treated differently by the law.  Mothers, whether married or not, have parental rights simply by virtue of their biological relationship to the child.  Unmarried fathers have no such luck.

But again, Tarry Achane and Tira Bland were married when their child was born, but Bland decided to place their child for adoption anyway and she had no trouble finding a Utah adoption agency and lawyer who were more than willing to accomplish the feat, despite Achane’s rights.

Achane and Bland lived in Texas, and when she became pregnant, she announced that she intended to either abort the fetus or place the child for adoption.  Achane opposed both measures from the start and Bland apparently agreed.  He was a member of the United States Army and soon took a job as a drill instructor in South Carolina.  Their plan was for Bland to give birth in Texas where she had relatives, and then she and the child would move to South Carolina to be with Achane.  Before moving, Achane attended prenatal doctor visits and was present when the first ultrasound revealed their child was a girl.  He carried Bland on his health insurance policy and intended to do so for his new daughter.  Achane also paid the mortgage and utilities on their home in Texas.

But shortly after he arrived on base, he started having difficulty reaching Bland by phone.  He asked friends to go to their house and find out what the problem was.  They reported the house was empty.  Bland had taken off for Utah, having contacted the Adoption Agency of Choice in American Fork.  AAC in turn contacted Jared and Kristi Frei who wanted to adopt a child.

Then began Bland’s lies which are so necessary to deprive a father of his child and which the State of Utah enthusiastically embraces when told in an adoption setting.

At the time, Bland claimed her husband had abandoned her and was not interested in raising the child, according to the ruling.

Bland told the Adoption Center of Choice it could reach her husband in Texas, though she knew he was in South Carolina and thus would not receive any legal notices sent to his former address. Bland also apparently withheld Achane’s telephone number from the agency and later claimed she did not contact him about the birth because her phone wasn’t working.

AAC told the Freis that Achane didn’t know his daughter had been placed for adoption and likely would oppose it if he found out.  So warned, the Freis decided they wanted to move ahead anyway and the adoption agency agreed.  That decision would require them to lie to the court, but apparently that too was all in a day’s work to them.

It wasn’t until three months after she gave birth that Bland finally told Achane that she’d given their daughter up for adoption in Utah.  He immediately contacted AAC who refused to give him any information about  his child’s whereabouts.  Eventually and attorney for AAC contacted Achane and asked him to consent to the adoption.  He refused, but a month later, the Freis filed their petition for adoption anyway.

Over a year later, Judge McDade held a hearing on the matter and, on November 20, 2012, rendered his judgment.

In his subsequent order, McDade said it is “undisputed” that Utah law requires consent of a married father before an adoption can take place.

“The right of a fit, competent parent to raise the parent’s child without undue government interference is a fundamental liberty interest that has long been protected by the laws and constitution of this state of the United States, and is a fundamental public policy of this state,” he said.

There was no need under law for Achane to “prove himself” fit to be a parent to his child. Nor did he have any obligation to comply with statutes directed at unmarried putative fathers, the judge said.

Achane Should Sue Adoption Agency and Lawyer for Deprivation of Parental Rights

Let’s be clear.  The adoption agency, its lawyer and the Freis violated clear Utah law regarding the rights of married fathers.  For them, there’s no hiding behind any uncertainty in the law to defend their actions.  They broke the law intentionally and they knew it.  For that reason, I would encourage Terry Achane to sue all of them.  They intentionally violated his parental rights and caused emotional trauma to his daughter as well.  In fact, Judge McDade himself outlined the duties owed to Achane.

“[O]nce Mr. Achane contacted the Adoption Center of Choice … to let them know he opposed the adoption and wanted his daughter back, that should have been the end of this case,” McDade said.

“Likewise, when the attorney for the Adoption Center of Choice contacted Mr. Achane and confirmed that Mr. Achane would not consent to the adoptive placement, the very next conversation they should have had was what arrangements the adoption agency would be making to return Teleah to him with all due haste,” he said. “That did not happen.”…

“At that juncture, the right thing for the Freis and the Adoption Center of Choice to have done would have been to make arrangements to return Teleah to Mr. Achane with all due haste,” the judge said.

I hope Achane sues the lot of them.  Perhaps a hefty judgment against some of these adoption agencies and lawyers will put a stop to the trafficking in children the Utah legislature so far happily ignores.

Parenthetically, one person who’s not ignoring any of this is reporter Brooke Adams of the Salt Lake Tribune.  She’s run several articles on the disgrace that is Utah adoption practice and in so doing, chipped away at the facade of legality and decency behind which that system still hides.  Good for her.

Thanks to Glenn for the heads-up.

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