November 29th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Ramsey Shaud finally caught a break. He’s the Florida man who’s been fighting a Utah adoption agency and Utah courts to stop the adoption of his daughter and gain custody of her. He’s been at it for three years, and it’s not over yet, not by a long shot. Read the latest here (Salt Lake Tribune, 11/27/12).
I’ve written about Shaud here and here. Like Kevin O’Dey, John Wyatt, Robert Manzenares and countless others before him, Shaud’s girlfriend, Shasta Tew, decided she didn’t want to keep their child, so she decided on adoption. As with the girlfriends of those other men, Tew figured who should parent her child was her decision and no one else’s. To her, Shaud should butt out of a decision in which he had no interest. But Shaud begged to differ. He made it clear to Tew that he thought they should raise their daughter together, but if Tew didn’t want that, he’d do the job himself.
That of course posed a problem for Tew – child support. Were Shaud to get custody of their child, she’d be on the hook for at least 18 years of child support and she apparently didn’t want to go down that road. So she used her power as a mother and went about the task of cutting a loving, capable, willing father out of his daughter’s life forever. First she moved to Arizona, but Shaud was ahead of her. He’d already filed with that state’s putative father registry, so, if Tew placed the child for adoption there, he’d have to be notified and given an opportunity to stake his claim of paternity.
So Tew moved again, this time to Utah, and there again, Shaud thought he was ready for her. But when he tried to figure out what he needed to do to preserve his parental rights, Utah law and the state’s websites proved so confusing that Shaud was stumped. So he hired an attorney who did know what to do, and attorney Daniel Drage did everything necessary to protect Ramsey Shaud. He filed all the paperwork necessary to do that, and he did it on time, despite the fact that Tew delivered their daughter over two weeks prematurely. Shaud was home free; no adoption could go forward without his agreement.
Well, not quite. Drage had gotten his various filings to the court on a Friday, but they didn’t get registered that day. Monday was a federal holiday, and so nothing happened with Shaud’s legal documents until Tuesday and that, according to the lower court was too late. He’d missed the filing deadline, not because of anything Shaud or his attorney had done wrong, but because of a legal holiday. As I said in a previous post, it doesn’t get much more outrageous than that. Countless column-inches of newspapers are devoted to excoriating “deadbeat dads” for supposedly failing to be responsible for their children. But when fathers like Ramsey Shaud do step up to the plate, they’re tossed aside like so much trash. Family courts do it every day, and Utah adoption courts seem to have no other business but that.
Somehow they manage to rationalize taking a fit, loving father from his child based on entirely spurious excuses. And, as I’ve pointed out before, every time they force adoption on a child like Shaud’s, who’s never needed to be adopted, they deprive another child who does need to be adopted, of fit, loving parents. I’m all for adoption. Kids without biological parents need someone to raise them. That’s why putative father registries and all other obstacles to fathers’ involvement in their children’s lives should be abolished. If a father’s unfit, let somebody prove it. Until they do, his parental rights remain undiminished. That’s not just me saying that, it’s the Supreme Court of the United States.
So Shaud’s case finally wound up in the Utah Supreme Court. That’s the same court that’s showed signs recently of nervousness about the national disgrace that are the Beehive State’s adoption laws. At a time of growing awareness of fathers’ importance to children, the spectacle of Utah’s going to extremes to keep loving fathers separated from their kids may be proving to be too much for the state’s highest court. In a 3 – 2 decision, the Court overturned the lower court’s ruling that Shaud had filed too late.
“We conclude that the district court’s interpretation of the [adoption act’s] strict compliance standard poses an unacceptable risk of erroneous deprivation of unwed fathers’ rights,” the court said.
That doesn’t automatically mean the adoption is null and void. Far from it. Having done everything required of him by Utah law to stop the adoption of his child, you might think that Shaud could not be deprived of custody, but that’s not the case.
While the decision assures Shaud, 26, a shot at making the argument that he acted in time to protect his parental rights, it does not guarantee he’ll get to parent his child — a matter that will likely involve numerous additional court hearings in which his fitness as a parent will be weighed against those of the child’s adoptive parents and what is in the child’s best interests.
‘Child’s Best Interests’ Often Used to Take Father from Child
Ah, “the child’s best interests.” What those magic words often mean is “Dad loses his child and the child loses her dad,” and I won’t be surprised if that happens in Shaud’s case as well. Oh, I’m sure he can prove that he’d make a good father; you don’t fight as long and as hard as he has and not be able to show you’re qualified to parent your child. But I’ve read those magic words too many times not to suspect that the trial court will “reason” this way: Yes it’s true that this was all done by a mother’s lying about who the father of the child is and whether he wanted to parent his little girl; yes, the state behaved outrageously in failing to register his court filings on time; yes, constitutional law prohibits any state from infringing the parental rights of any fit parent. But too much time has passed and the child has been in the care of her adoptive parents too long. Relationships have been established and it would be too upsetting to the child to interfere with those now. Ergo, another father loses out.
I’ve seen this time and again. Once a mother is successful at separating a father from his child, the glacial pace of court procedures guarantee that, even if he “wins,” he’ll lose. That’s because “too much time has passed.” In short, mothers rely on the court system to, in effect, make their case for them. For example, oral arguments were held before the Utah Supreme Court in Shaud’s case in October of 2011. It took them almost 14 months to issue a ruling.
Of course the “too much time has passed” argument is utterly without merit, as divorce courts prove every day. If children truly are too traumatized by changing parental relationships, and if the court system truly cared about that, many and perhaps most divorces would be stopped in their tracks. After all, if a family has children, what is a divorce, but the most traumatic of changed relationships for children? They effectively lose their fathers. Of course we know this to be the case; children are terribly upset by their parents’ divorce and that turmoil often has lifelong consequences. So do we deny divorce to those parents? Of course not. The U.S. records over 1 million divorces every year.
So it’s interesting to witness the “sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t” use of the “best interests of the child.” Often as not, that phrase is just a red herring for taking a father from a child.
Sadly, my guess is that it’ll be used that way against Ramsey Shaud.