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January 2, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Another day, another child lost to the Utah adoption racket. But there’s a difference this time. The father’s hired crusading attorney Wes Hutchins to represent him in his civil suit against his child’s mother, the adoptive parents, the adoption agency and sundry lawyers who facilitated the deal. Here’s an article about the suit (NBC News, 12/31/13), and here’s an editorial calling for an overhaul of Utah adoption laws (Salt Lake Tribune, 1/1/14).

Hutchins is a Utah adoption lawyer, but, unlike some others, he thinks that the only children who should be adopted are those without fit parents to care for them. That modest, commonsensical notion puts Hutchins on a collision course with the Utah adoption industry that banks big bucks every year by forcing adoption on children who don’t need it. Usually that means the removal of an unmarried father from his child’s life either because he has no knowledge of the child or because he was insufficiently diligent at the daunting task of figuring out and complying with Utah law.

Here’s how the SLT editorial describes the legal labyrinth faced by single fathers who want to stop an adoption and get custody of their children:

Utah adoption law includes four steps that biological fathers must take in order to intervene before the birth mother places the child for adoption:

File a paternity petition in court; file a sworn affidavit in court stating he is able and willing to have full custody of the child, detailing child care plans and agreeing to a court order of support and payment of pregnancy and birth-related expenses; file a notice of commencement of a paternity action with the state vital statistics registrar; show proof he offered to pay or did pay the pregnancy and birth-related expenses, unless he was unaware of the pregnancy before the birth.

If only it were that simple. If the father is from out of state, he must also comply with that state’s laws in order to stop a Utah adoption. And all single fathers must sign up with the Utah Putative Father Registry that most of them have never heard of. And of course they must do all of this timely. When a father doesn’t even know about his child, that’s essentially impossible.

As I’ve said before, there’s a reason why mothers from all over the country travel to Utah to place their children for adoption. It’s not as if states like Virginia, Florida and Texas don’t have adoption laws. Of course they do, and kids get adopted there and elsewhere every day. No, mothers go all the way to Utah for one reason only – its laws are substantially more hostile to single fathers than are those of other states. So mothers bent on excluding a father from the process of his child’s adoption find a friendly legal climate in the Beehive State.

They also find a system of adoption agencies and their lawyers who know it. They know full well how easy it is to cut an unmarried father out of his child’s life; after all, that’s a large part of how they make their livings. They know why Jane of Joan traveled 2,000 miles to the state, and it wasn’t for the scenery (although parts of Utah are beautiful).

Hutchins’ lawsuit is on behalf of a single father named Jake Strickland.

Strickland and [Whitney] Pettersson first met in 2009 as co-workers at a restaurant, according to court documents. Strickland said Pettersson was having problems with her marriage, and she later told him she got divorced. They began dating, and three months later, she texted him that she was pregnant.

Strickland left Utah for a temp job in Texas, but said he assured Pettersson that he wanted to be present in their child’s life, according to the lawsuit. He started a fund for the baby boy. The couple came up with a name: Jack.

But after Strickland returned to Utah, the romance dissolved. They began discussing parenting options. He said he told Pettersson that he would consider signing up with Utah’s putative father registry, which is how unmarried men can document with the state that they want parental rights.

But Strickland didn’t register. According to Hutchins, Pettersson warned him that if he did, she “would view it as an act of distrust” and keep his child from him.

“I don’t know if it was done as an act of vindictiveness,” Hutchins said…

On Jan. 5, 2011, Strickland said he was astonished to learn that Pettersson had given birth a week earlier — unbeknownst to him. He also learned she was still legally married, which meant her estranged husband was the presumed father under state law.

The most devastating discovery, Strickland said in the lawsuit, was that Pettersson had already given up their child for adoption.

She even got her then-husband to agree to the adoption by telling him that he would be the one saddled with child support payments if she kept the boy, according to Hutchins.

Strickland, who now lives in Arizona, mounted a paternity claim. But his fight was complicated because he had never registered with the state for his paternal rights.

Despite contesting the adoption, Strickland learned in November 2011 that it was completed.

That’s just how they roll in Utah. Pettersson lied multiple times to Strickland and to her husband on whom she also cheated. And all of that is perfectly alright as long as she possesses such a valuable commodity as a newborn baby. A healthy newborn is worth far too much money to lawyers, adoptive parents and adoption agencies for minor irritations like facts and honesty to get in the way of adopting it. So of course Strickland’s son was taken from him without his ever having seen him. That’s pretty much par for the course.

But now Strickland’s fighting back and the fact that Wes Hutchins is his lawyer bodes well.

A dad whose newborn son was given up for adoption by the birth mother — without his knowledge — is seeking $130 million in a lawsuit testing the boundaries of a biological father’s rights in Utah.

The adoption of Jake Strickland’s son just after he was born Dec. 29, 2010, was illegal and done “through gross misdirection and … clandestine conduct,” claims the suit filed Friday in the U.S. District Court of Utah.

Strickland alleges the mother, Whitney Pettersson, conspired with the adoptive parents, the adoption agency and attorneys to give up the boy — named “Baby Jack” in the suit — without allowing him to seek custody.

The complaint also strikes at Utah's parenting laws, accusing them of being “pro-adoption and anti-birth father.”

But it’s a little like trying to sue Wall Street; the laws are so stacked in favor of the players that most of what they do is legal. It shouldn’t be, but it is. The same is true of adoption law in Utah. I can easily see the defendants in Strickland’s suit simply saying “Everything we did was legal,” and, under Utah law, it probably was. Yes, the state makes unmarried fathers do handstands to stop the adoption or their kids, but unless those laws are unconstitutional, Strickland’s got no case.

Having said that, I’d like to add that Wes Hutchins is no fool and he’s not likely expending all the time and energy required to prosecute this suit if there weren’t some wrongdoing somewhere. And I think I know where. My guess is that the mother lied numerous times to the lawyers and the agencies who in turn winked at her lies. They did that in order to get the adoption finalized and so they could get paid.

So I won’t be surprised to learn that the discovery phase of the Strickland case reveals multiple lies by the mother and knowledge of same by the other principals.

We’ll see. But whatever the outcome of the lawsuit, certain basic truths remain. Here’s what the SLT said about that:

Fathers are parents, too. Utah adoption law does not recognize that fact, and it should be changed to reflect reality and not to sanction only two-parent, heterosexual homes as "in the best interest" of children.

In Utah parental rights are awarded to unwed, biological fathers by the state only if they meet a lot of paperwork requirements prescribed by Utah law. But single fathers have an inherent right to be parents, the same as women, and are fully capable of providing loving, stable homes to their children.

Fathers are parents, too. Utah adoption law does not recognize that fact, and it should be changed to reflect reality and not to sanction only two-parent, heterosexual homes as "in the best interest" of children.

Utah adoption law favors mothers and encourages adoption by heterosexual couples while putting nearly insurmountable obstacles in the way of fathers — married to the mother or not — who want to raise their own children. Many unwed mothers, and even some married mothers who want to place a child for adoption without messy interference from the father, move to Utah specifically to take advantage of Utah’s discriminatory law…

To avoid such trauma to children, Utah should change the law to recognize that fathers, as well as mothers, have a right to care for their children.

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