Salt Lake Tribune Calls for Reform of State’s Adoption Laws

October 28, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

The Salt Lake Tribune has long been a sensible voice for change regarding fathers’ rights in adoption cases in the Beehive State. The paper has one of the best and most knowledgeable reporters on the subject, Brooke Adams, who regularly brings the reality of the state’s adoption policies to the attention of readers. Adams has been doing this for years. Good for her and good for the Tribune.

As I reported a few days ago, the case of Bobby Nevares has once again brought the scandal of how adoption agencies and their lawyers use the state’s byzantine laws to deprive fit fathers of any say in the adoption of their children. To its credit, the Tribune followed up its fine reporting with a fine editorial excoriating the state for its adoption practices (Salt Lake Tribune, 10/22/13).

The “hook” for Adams’ piece and the editorial is the opposition by something called the Sutherland Institute to any improvement in fathers’ rights in the adoption process. Weirdly, Sutherland opposes the rights of single fathers on the theory that children need two heterosexual parents to be raised properly. That’s so wrong-headed it’s hard to know where to begin. It’s so wrong-headed the Tribune rightly calls it “poppycock,” although others might choose stronger language.

Of course it’s true that children do better in two-biological-parent households, but when a single mother places a child for adoption, its biological connection to its future parents goes out the window. As to the sexual orientation of the parents, there’s no good evidence that gay or lesbian parents can’t raise perfectly healthy, happy, well-adjusted children. If the Sutherland Institute wants the state to forbid adoption by gay men and lesbian women, it should come out and say so rather than trying to accomplish the same thing by denying all single fathers, gay or straight, a say in the adoption of their children. But it won’t do that because it knows the firestorm of protest that would erupt if it did.

Single fathers, it seems, are an easier target. Fortunately, the Tribune is having none of it. In the process it gets right just about everything regarding adoption laws and practices in Utah. In so doing, it repeats many of the points made repeatedly on the subject by this blog.

Utah adoption law favors mothers and encourages adoption by heterosexual couples while putting nearly insurmountable obstacles in the way of fathers who want to raise their own children. 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.

Yes, isn’t it interesting how single mothers move from all over the country to Utah to place their child for adoption. You’d think other states didn’t have adoption laws, but of course they do, and they’re none too friendly to unmarried fathers as the plethora of putative father registries demonstrates. But they’re nowhere near as anti-father as Utah, hence the steady flow of mothers to the state.

Utah adoption law, one of the worst for denying paternal rights, has 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.

We’ve seen each of those used to deprive fathers of their parental rights. For example, we’ve seen a father file his notice of the paternity action with the registrar of vital statistics, only to see the registrar refuse to record its filing until after the deadline for doing so had passed. We’ve also seen the mother of Kevin O’Dea’s baby move to three separate states in order to avoid him being able to prove that he offered to pay her expenses. She then called him on her way to the hospital to deliver his child, not to give him useful information or even let him know what state she was in, but to satisfy some arcane notice requirement.

All the burden of reading, interpreting and abiding by this arcane law sits on the father. If a woman is determined to place her baby for adoption, it’s relatively easy for her to do so in Utah without the father’s consent or even knowledge. In a well-publicized case resolved this year, a married father serving in the military was kept in the dark about his wife’s pregnancy and only found out he had a child after the baby had lived for months in a Utah adoptive home.

Most of this impacts unmarried fathers, but, as the Tribune notes, married fathers can get the same treatment. As usual, just a little creative lying by a birth mother will be sufficient to deprive a child of its father.

The one thing the Tribune neglects to mention is the tragic fact that all this determined deprivation of fathers’ rights to their own children ultimately redounds to the detriment of other kids who don’t have fit parents and who desperately need to be adopted. There are millions of those throughout the nation and the world. Every time Utah forces adoption on a child who doesn’t need it, i.e. a child with a fit father who wants custody, it deprives another child of the loving parents it needs.

Besides, if an unmarried father were able to stop the adoption of his child and get custody, it’s likely the mother would change her mind and want a part in the child’s life as well.  After all, it’s either that or play the role of non-custodial parent, replete with paying child support. Faced with that, active motherhood often looks like the better alternative. Failing that, most of these dads end up getting married and providing a stepmother to their children, i.e. exactly the situation the Sutherland Institute argues for in the first place.

Utah needs to change its radically anti-father adoption laws. Thanks to the Salt Lake Tribune and reporter Brooke Adams for showing the way.

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