May 4, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
A lawsuit is under way in Colorado that has the potential to irreparably damage the rights of unmarried biological parents, mostly fathers. A state appellate court is set to hear the case of In the Interest of K.A.B., a Minor Child. Depending on its decision, the case may proceed to the Colorado Supreme Court and then to the United States Supreme Court.
The issue to be decided is whether an unmarried mother can collude with her brother and his wife to strip her child’s father of his parental rights by the most blatant fraud. So far, the answer is ‘yes.’ The father, Rob Manzanares, is the best of dads, having never had any aspersions cast on his parental abilities. According to the United States Supreme Court, in Troxel v. Granville, no state can infringe the liberty interest of a biological parent in the care, custody and control of his child, absent a showing of parental unfitness or incompetence. Neither has been shown about Manzanares, nor has such a showing even been attempted.
And yet, the Colorado trial court ruled that the mother’s brother and sister-in-law have legal standing to seek parenting time of Manzanares’ daughter. How could such a thing happen?
Back in 2007, Manzanares and “C” conceived a child who was born on February 17, 2008. But over three months prior to her birth, C and her brother and his wife (the “Bs”) began formulating a plan whereby C would travel to Utah, where the Bs lived, under false pretenses, give birth and turn the child over to the Bs to adopt.
And that is what they did. As found by courts much later, C went to Utah claiming she was visiting her sick father, when in fact it was for the sole purpose of giving birth, turning the child over to the Bs and relinquishing her parental rights. As readers of this blog are all too well aware, Utah has long been the go-to state for single mothers bent on denying the fathers of their children any say about the adoption of those kids.
But Manzanares got wind of the plot and, although he had no idea of exactly where C was or when she was to deliver their child (when she did, it was five weeks prematurely), he filed a paternity action in Colorado seeking to establish his parentage and his rights to his child. C was aware of Rob’s action in Colorado and contacted the court to (a) lie about why she couldn’t be present at the hearing and (b) refuse to mention that she was in the process of placing K.A.B for adoption.
As adoptions seemingly always are in Utah, C’s placement of K.A.B. went off like clockwork, but Rob appealed and eventually won a reversal of the adoption by the state’s highest court. In the process, both the Utah trial court and Supreme Court were careful to note, and find as established fact, that C and the Bs had pursued a relentless course of fraud and lying both to Manzanares and to multiple courts. The high court judges, for example, referred to “CM’s multiple efforts to keep father in the dark” about her actions and called those actions “fraudulent and outrageous.”
And so they were. But litigation takes time and the Bs relied on that to establish in fact what they couldn’t establish in law. Although begun in February, 2008, all the legal wrangling over K.A.B. is still going on. The Utah Supreme Court case wasn’t decided until 2012 and the current proceedings in 2015 are far from over. In short, whether she knows it or not, little K.A.B. hasn’t spent a day of her life not the subject of a lawsuit.
And what the Bs have successfully established, at least for now, is that the slow pace of the judicial process, abetted of course by their own litigious behavior, can miraculously create parental rights where none existed before. Indeed, they can create those rights on behalf of adults who’ve conspired with a mother to defraud not only the father of her child, but various courts in two states.
That’s all because K.A.B has been living with the Bs all this time. She’s now seven years old. Manzanares has, for the last three years, gotten courts to allow him significant contact with his daughter which he has enthusiastically taken advantage of. But of course the little girl has always considered the Bs her parents. She has no way of knowing of their outrageous and wrongful behavior. She knows Rob is her father, but her life to date has been mostly with the Bs.
So, Manzanares took the Bs to court in Denver to try to wrest exclusive custody of his daughter from the people who conspired to, effectively, kidnap her. Beyond belief, the trial court ruled that the Bs have standing to seek an order of parenting time regarding K.A.B. That is, they have the legal authority to assert parental rights to her.
How did non-parents manage that? More to the point, how did non-parents whose behavior is “fraudulent and outrageous” manage that? Well, they got an expert to testify that the Bs are K.A.B.’s “psychological parents,” that it would be too traumatic for the child to lose “the only parents she’s ever known,” and therefore, Manzanares must be stripped of his rights to his child.
The “expert” was a Dr. Goldsmith. His testimony hardly supported his opinions. He conducted no psychological evaluations on the child, the Bs or Manzanares, everything he testified to in letters to the court was based on conversations with the Bs and not on direct observation, he had never witnessed the child interacting with the Bs and had had no therapy sessions with the child before submitting his opinion to the court.
The Guardian ad Litem for K.A.B. concluded that the girl should be in her father’s exclusive custody and that such an arrangement would be in accord with applicable state and constitutional law.
Trial court Judge David Brett Woods ignored the recommendation of the GAL. On the basis of Goldsmith’s opinion, he decided that the Bs constitute “psychological parents” to K.A.B. and it is that ruling that Manzanares has appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals.
Now, for the sake of argument, I’ll set aside the fact that Dr. Goldsmith’s opinions on the matter are clearly based on too little factual evidence to have any bearing on the outcome of the case. From here he looks like the classic example of an “expert” whose opinions invariably conform to the legal needs of the party by whom he’s paid.
But let us assume he’s right. Let us assume that the child would experience some upset at the change of parents Manzanares is requesting. Of course such a change would be brought about gradually and, at seven, K.A.B. is capable of understanding a good bit of what is going on. After all, she already knows that Rob is her father.
Still, we can assume she would have a rough time adjusting to her new family and home. That would eventually fade, particularly if Manzanares were to keep the Bs involved in her life, at least to a degree.
So the question presented is whether such “psychological parents” (if that’s what they are) can remove a child from her father in the way the Bs (and C) did. Stated more favorably to the Bs, do a child’s best interests trump the rights of a biological parent or vice versa?
In answer, consider the ramifications of a legal precedent that allows the Bs to seek and retain parental rights. The simple message would be that, it doesn’t really matter how it’s done, but possession of a child is all it takes to gain parental rights. If a child comes to live with an adult — any adult — long enough, that adult gains parental rights to the child. Period. That is the legal argument the Bs are making to the appellate court. In their case, the nut of their claim is that fraud should be overlooked as should kidnapping. According to them no wrong is too great but that it should be rewarded by a court, just as long as some expert says that a child has bonded with the wrongdoers and would be harmed by separation from them.
Suppose Mom goes to the super market with little Andy or Jenny, age six months, in a stroller. Momentarily distracted by calculating the prices of various items, Mom takes her eyes off the child and Bluebeard picks it up and walks away. Seven years later, Bluebeard and the child are discovered and all agree that the child thinks of the man as his/her father and is happy, healthy and prosperous in his care. Bluebeard, like the Bs, claims parental rights as the psychological parent.
Result? It’s the one the Colorado court is tasked with deciding.
That task should be simple. There is no valid argument for rewarding what the Bs did in collusion with C. It was legally and morally indefensible and the glacial pace of the court system cannot be used to provide them with parental rights they could in no way have obtained otherwise absent Rob’s consent. To reward their behavior would be to encourage it in others with simple possession of a child becoming the only deciding factor in who has parental rights.
Needless to say, the United States Supreme Court has never conceived of any such thing. Nowhere is there any precedent that holds that the rights of biological parents can be trumped by the simple theft of their child.
We’ll see what the court decides, but it should be an easy case. The trial court ruling should be reversed and the case sent back to it with instructions for Rob Manzanares to be his daughter’s sole custodian. Testimony should be taken to determine the way in which to accomplish that that would be the least stressful for K.A.B. An order of child support should be issued against C.
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.
#fraud, #adoption, #UtahSupremeCourt, #psychologicalparents, #biologicalfather