October 24, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
The adoption industry in Utah has come under fire many times for its frank denial of the parental rights of unmarried fathers. Utah is head and shoulders the worst state in the nation for its frank preference for adoptive parents over fathers. It therefore imposes requirements on single fathers seeking to have a say in whether or not their child gets adopted that no other state even comes close to. Basically, once a single mother decides to place a child for adoption, it’s up to the father to stop it. That means he has to (a) know that she’d pregnant (b) know that the child is his, (c) know that she intends to place the child for adoption, (d) know when the child will be adopted, (e) know where the child is to be adopted and (f) know how to comply with Utah’s byzantine regulations for intervention by a single father. As to that last requirement, even Utah adoption attorneys are confused. In the case discussed in the linked-to article, so was the judge.
All of that is to say that even a little creative lying by the birth mother is usually sufficient to deny the child’s father the ability to contest the adoption of his child. Even a casual observer of the adoption scene in the United States will notice the remarkable number of single mothers who travel long distances just to have their child adopted in Utah. On this blog alone I’ve written about women from Virginia, Florida, Texas, Colorado, Montana and elsewhere, who decided that Utah was the place to conduct their child’s adoption.
The funny thing is that all those states have adoption laws and adoptions are completed under those laws all the time. So why would a mother in, say, Virginia, travel all the way across the country just to place her child for adoption? The reason is that, if the father doesn’t agree to relinquish his parental rights, Utah makes it uniquely easy to simply cut him out of the process. Adoption lawyers around the country know this, as do those in Utah. After all, it’s their bread and butter.
Of late in Utah, there’s been considerable hand-wringing about the fact that the state has become a Mecca for single mothers who are willing to lie in order to terminate the rights of the fathers of their children. The scandal has gotten so bad that even Utah adoption lawyers and the Utah Supreme Court have become nervous about the practice. The Salt Lake Tribune and reporter Brooke Adams have done yeoman work in exposing the disgraceful state of adoption law and the outrageous behavior of Utah adoption attorneys.
Here’s the latest (Salt Lake Tribune, 10//13). It’s the case of Bobby Nevares, yet another out of state father who’s been forced to litigate the adoption of his child, not in his native Colorado, but in Utah. Where else?
Nevares’ case is pretty much a rehash of all the other adoption cases that have ended up in Utah’s friendly climes.
In this case, Nevares and the birth mother had a brief relationship that spanned a few months before ending in January 2010.
Eight months later, the birth mother informed Nevares, then 20, she was pregnant and due to give birth Oct. 11, 2010. She also told Nevares she planned to place the infant for adoption; Nevares told her he was willing to take responsibility for and parent the child.
The birth mother proceeded to contact two adoption agencies, the Adoption Center of Choice in Utah and Adoption Options in Colorado.
In mid-September 2010, the Colorado agency contacted Nevares and told him it was working with the birth mother. Nevares visited that agency twice and, during one visit, was given an "Anticipated Expedited Relinquishment Reply" form to fill out. He did so while again expressing his desire to take custody of and parent the child.
Unbeknownst to Nevares, the birth mother, then 16, decided to work with the Utah agency instead. She arrived in Utah two days before giving birth on Sept. 29, 2010, to a boy who was placed for adoption by the Utah agency a day later.
The teen’s mother contacted Nevares on Oct. 6, 2010, and, without disclosing the location, informed him of the birth and adoption. She also sent a photo of the infant in a text message with the comment, "sorry for your loss," according to Nevares.
A week later, after Nevares’ mother threatened legal action to force the birth mother’s family to disclose details about the baby’s birth, the Adoption Center of Choice called and left a message at the Nevares home. Nevares’ mother was able to trace the agency, via the telephone number, to Utah.
Nevares hired a Utah attorney and, on Oct. 18, 2010, filed a paternity petition in Utah County’s 4th District Court seeking to intervene in the adoption proceeding.
Let’s review. “Unbeknownst to Nevares, the birth mother, then 16, decided to work with the Utah agency instead.” Stated in less tactful language, she figured out that, in Colorado, there was no way she could complete the adoption without Nevares consent, but in Utah, it was a different story. There, she could proceed in complete secrecy and it was up to him to figure out what was going on, when and where. My guess is that she called an adoption agency or lawyer in Utah and was filled in on the easy steps the state provides when a single mom wants to cut a father out of his child’s life.
So Nevares lost Round 1 when a Utah judge said he didn’t meet the requirements of Utah law in contesting the adoption of his son. But not long afterward, the same judge reversed herself.
At that November hearing, the judge declared Nevares to be the child’s biological father and granted his request to intervene in the adoption proceeding.
And then she reversed herself again, declaring that Nevares should have done more in Colorado to preserve his parental rights. In short, a Utah state judge, informed by at least two lawyers in the case has made three different decisions about what Nevares should have done to try to stop the adoption of his child. The judge and the lawyers couldn’t figure out what the law was, but Nevares, a teenager, was supposed to get it right the first time.
Not only that, but the judge refused to allow Nevares to attack one section of the Utah law on adoptions.
But the judge dismissed his attempt to challenge the section of Utah’s adoption law that bars unmarried fathers from using fraud by a birth mother as a defense for inaction, noting that Nevares "has not shown that the birth mother or [Adoption Center of Choice] had any duty to disclose that the birth mother came to Utah to give birth and to place her child for adoption."
That pretty much sums up how Utah state law treats unmarried fathers. Fraud by the mother? Perfectly OK. After all, she owes him no duty whatsoever to inform him of anything about his child. His parental rights are solidly in her hands and her lying to make sure she maintains complete control over them is explicitly approved of by the law.
The frank sexism of Utah adoption law is not exceptional. Essentially every state treats unmarried fathers completely differently from unmarried mothers. In Utah though, it’s worse than elsewhere. Other states discourage fraud by mothers at least in some instances. Utah is the only state I know of in which it’s actively encouraged. That’s why so many mothers travel such long distances to place their children for adoption.
Still, the sexism is remarkable. In Utah, the adoption industry is a huge money-maker and it does so because the law creates special enticements for mothers to travel there to place their children. To make sure the adoption fees keep flowing, the state makes it easy on mothers and, as a practical matter, that means making it easy to cut the father out of the adoption loop.
Many people applaud adoption as a per se good. And of course when a child truly has no fit parents, adoption is the best second choice. But adoption laws in the U.S. and Utah in particular go far beyond facilitating the adoption of kids without parents. Where children have a caring, capable father, they’re at pains to remove him from the process of adoption, to, in effect, create a parentless child where before there wasn’t one.
In so doing, they deprive a child somewhere who does need to be adopted of good adoptive parents. That’s because there are far more children in the United States and the rest of the world who need to be adopted than there are adoptive parents to take them. The adoption system in this country is seriously dysfunctional. It deprives fathers and children alike, all for the purpose of keeping the money flowing to adoption agencies and lawyers, and making sure mothers control fathers’ rights. It hurts the very children it’s supposed to help. It needs a radical overhaul and there’s no place like Utah to start.
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