Utah Again Endorses Fraud in Adoption Process

August 20, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The Utah Legislature and Supreme Court have a few messages for parents and kids. To single mothers it’s “Lie; lie about your pregnancy, lie about your intention to place the child for adoption, tell any lie that might throw the father off the track. We’ll back you every step of the way to make sure the adoption you desire is the adoption you get.”

To single fathers: “Sue. The law encourages your partner to lie, so don’t trust a word she says. File suit early and often. Your parental rights are worth next to nothing in this state, so by all means file suit.”

To children: “We don’t much care about your welfare and, being a child, there’s nothing you can do about it. Do you have a dad who’s ready willing and able to care for you? Too bad; we’re doing everything we can to get him out of your life. Or perhaps you have no fit parent and therefore need adoptive ones. Again, too bad. We forced adoption on another kid who didn’t need it, so you, who need parents, didn’t get them. Tough luck, chump.”

To all of the above: “We do all this because, in Utah, the adoption industry is big business. We make adoption so easy here that single mothers come to Utah from all over the country even though their own states have perfectly good adoption laws. We want to keep the money flowing to adoption agencies and their lawyers, so we encourage fraud and the removal of fit fathers from their children just to make sure that keeps happening.”

Here’s the latest outrage (Utah Supreme Court, 8/11/15). And here’s an article on it (Salt Lake Tribune, 8/18/15).

And here’s a piece I wrote on the case last fall. It’s about a man named Jake Strickland. Here are the facts of the case as taken from his lawyer’s brief to a federal court.

He met Whitney Pettersson in 2009. She falsely claimed she had divorced her husband Kyle Rathjen. Strickland and Pettersson began a sexual relationship and she soon conceived a child. At one point, she mentioned wanting to place the child for adoption, but Strickland vehemently objected causing Pettersson to promise (falsely) that she would keep the child and they’d raise it together.

Strickland was overjoyed as was his family. Pettersson became very much a part of his family, attending parties and family functions with Strickland. And why not? What family wouldn’t embrace the soon-to-be mother of the child of one of its members? Soon Strickland’s brother hosted a baby shower for Pettersson. With Christmas just around the corner, Strickland announced to his family that all he wanted were items for the baby whom Petterson had told him would be delivered by Caesarian Section on January 12, 2012.

All the while, Pettersson had allowed Strickland to give her money, pay for child-related expenses, attend doctor visits, etc.

Shortly before Christmas, a very pregnant Petterson and Strickland took a romantic nighttime walk around the temple of the Church of Latter Day Saints to view the Christmas lights and talk about the new arrival.

But then, Pettersson got quiet. Strickland’s emails, text messages and phone calls were answered curtly, if at all. Still, he wasn’t concerned because more than once in the run-up to the birth of their child on January 12th, when he inquired as to how she was doing, Pettersson replied “Good no change.”

But there had been a change — a very important one. Completely unknown to Strickland, Pettersson had given birth on December 30th and placed the child with adoptive parents. None of that had she told Strickland and he was flabbergasted when she finally told him long after the fact. She added that she had known all along that she would place the child for adoption. Her behavior with him and his family, her acceptance of their love, gifts and money had all been part of the ruse.

The very next day, he filed suit to prove his paternity and stop the adoption. His bid to be a father to his child was denied at the trial court level and is now pending before a Utah appellate court.

It is that unbroken series of lies and fraudulent actions on the part of Ms. Pettersson (now named Demke) that Utah statute law and the state Supreme Court enthusiastically endorse. On August 11, the Utah Supreme Court denied all of Jake Strickland’s challenges to the adoption of his child. That’s true despite the fact that all agree that the adoption was brought about by fraud on Pettersson’s part and that that fraud was relied on by the adoption agency (the infamous LDS Family Services) and its lawyer, Larry Jenkins to push through the adoption. After all, as the Supreme Court’s recitation of the facts makes clear, had she not lied, Strickland would have filed his paternity action long before he did and, had he done so, this adoption would never have become final.

So how is it that Strickland lost his case? All courts relied on a curious provision in the Utah Adoption Act. It reads as follows:

[A] parent of a child conceived outside of marriage — is responsible for his or her own actions and is not excused from strict compliance with the provisions of this chapter based upon any action, statement, or omission of the other parent or third parties.

What, you may ask, does it mean to be “responsible for his or her own actions?” According to the Court, Strickland’s belief in Pettersson’s lies and his subsequent filing of a paternity suit the day after he discovered them constitutes irresponsibility. By contrast, Pettersson’s constant misrepresentations to Strickland over almost the entire course of her pregnancy constitute responsibility.

Or maybe they don’t. The Court never addressed Pettersson’s behavior in that regard. So it’s possible that the clause is simply inapplicable to mothers who place their children for adoption. Certainly no court in this case found anything she did to be wrong or irresponsible, so it may be that there’s no requirement that she behave in any particular way.

That of course raises the obvious issue that nothing in Utah law requires a single mother to tell anyone the truth about paternity or whether the father objects to the adoption of his child. The entire statutory scheme is aimed at allowing single mothers, adoption agencies and adoptive parents to circumvent the rights of fathers. And if that means committing fraud, so be it.

Of course Strickland lodged constitutional challenges to the Utah statute, all of which were denied. Most interesting of those was his substantive due process claim.

It seems there’s a 1986 case decided by the Utah Supreme Court that looks very much like it should have decided the matter in Strickland’s favor. The case is named In re Adoption of Baby Boy Doe. There, the Court relieved the father of strictly complying with the state’s Adoption Act based on the mother’s fraudulent misrepresentations to him that directly affected his belief in his need to comply.

Specifically, the Baby Boy Doe court asserted that the mother‘s representations as to her intentions to — move to Arizona‖with the father — alleviated any concern [he] might otherwise have had as to his need to protect his parental rights because he had no reason to believe an adoption would be attempted…

In concluding that the putative father had “successfully shown that the termination of his parental rights was contrary to basic notions of due process, and that he came forward within a reasonable time after the baby‘s birth,” the Baby Boy Doe majority relied at least in part on the “representations made by the mother.”

In other words, Baby Boy Doe was a case very much like Strickland’s. But whereas the Court in 1986 understood that fraud relieved the father from strict compliance with the statute, the Court in 2015 decided the opposite.

So, even if Strickland had been the world’s foremost authority on Utah’s Adoption Act, he might well have behaved no differently than he did. After all, he’d have known that strict compliance on the part of a father would not be required in the face of fraud by the mother. But even that level of legal acumen would have availed him nothing. The Court simply repudiated its own precedent and — presto! — Strickland lost.

We repudiate the elements of the Baby Boy Doe decision that are in conflict with our opinion in this case. And we hold that Strickland‘s procedural due process claim fails on its merits and is not sustained by our opinion in that case.

Well, now he knows.

When it comes to forcing adoption on kids who don’t need it and denying it to those who do, Utah still takes a backseat to no other state. That of course means avidly promoting fraud by birth mothers and reducing to the vanishing point the parental rights of single fathers. Utah adoption law is a disgrace perpetrated to subsidize the adoption industry there. Decency and a concern for the welfare of children and their fathers find no home there.


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