Utah: Financially Exhausting Fit Father so He’ll ‘Give Up’

January 5, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

  • Continued from Monday

Just how intent is the State of Utah on removing Jose Vargas from his daughter’s life in order to force adoption on a child who doesn’t need it? Very intent.

Despite his having proven his bona fides as a fit and loving father, the state is bound and determined to deny his daughter her father. By now, Vargas has had his paternity proven by DNA testing and of course, long before that, he’d taken as active a role in caring for “M” as the mother and the state would allow. Now he has only strictly supervised visitation with her.

A young man sits in a small room at the Division of Child & Family Services in American Fork, Utah, 30 miles south of Salt Lake City. Behind a mirror on the wall, a caseworker is watching. A camera records his every move. He is waiting to spend a precious hour with his 1-year-old daughter.

He has been told that he may not ask where his daughter is living. The location of her foster home is secret. He may not ask how she is being treated, whether she misses him, if she is frightened. Even if he could ask, his daughter is too young to answer him.

So why did the state so sharply curtail Vargas’s time with his child? After all, he’s done nothing to warrant having his parental rights restricted and, supposedly, states can’t limit the rights of parents without a prior finding of unfitness. So says the Supreme Court of the United States.

But Utah has limited Vargas’s rights because (a) he’s not married to M’s mother and (b) M’s mother behaved badly enough to have the child taken by the DCFS. Why should either fact redound to the detriment of Vargas? That’s a good question. Until M’s mother was discovered to have abused or neglected the child, Utah was perfectly happy for both her and Vargas to continue raising their child.

So what did Vargas do to suggest he’s less than a good father? Not a thing. His parental rights have been adversely affected not because of his own behavior but because of hers. What other “rights” do we have that we can lose because of someone else’s bad behavior? None that I know of.

Sometimes we hear the claim that Utah discriminates against single fathers because it values marriage and kids being raised by married parents. That would be understandable if it were true, but, self-evidently, it’s not. Again, if Utah were truly interested in only married parents raising kids, why was it acceptable for Vargas and M’s mother to raise the child without being married? Indeed, Utah permits parents to divorce and routinely marginalizes fathers in their children’s lives? So what of that noble motivation in those cases?

The claim is a red herring. Utah does a thriving adoption business and wants to continue doing so. To that end, it’s happy to pretend that all single fathers (but no single mothers) are pariahs and erects barriers to their establishing real relationships with their kids. By removing single fathers from their children’s lives, Utah eases the adoption process.

On Monday, I mentioned the Rob Manzanares case that originated in Utah before moving to Colorado. Perhaps the signal feature of that case is the astonishing amount of time it’s taken to resolve. Every minute of his daughter’s life she’s spent as the subject of litigation. That’s nine years and the case isn’t over yet, although it may be soon. Manzanares has had the money and the emotional/psychological strength to fight every step of the way to the bitter end. Few dads have either, a fact the State of Utah obviously knows all too well.

The court has, so far, refused to grant Jose’s petition for custody, although his paternity has now been established. The state of Utah has challenged that decision on a technicality and continues to pursue M’s adoption. Currently, the Utah Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear oral arguments regarding the juvenile court’s authority to grant Jose’s paternity on January 20, 2017. Jose’s requests to visit his daughter are still being denied…

Overwhelmed by legal fees that have already exceeded $25,000, Jose has set up a GoFundMe account where supporters can make donations. He has only been able to cover about $5,000 so far. He believes the state of Utah is trying to run out the clock, with the goal of exhausting him financially so he’ll give up.

He’s right. Utah is doing to him what it did unsuccessfully to Manzanares – trying to delay the case interminably so he’ll be unable –financially and emotionally – to go on. After all, challenging proof of paternity on appeal has only one meaning – pointless, abusive delay. And the State of Utah has all the resources it needs to litigate for as long as necessary.

That of course raises an obvious question: “Why does the State of Utah work so hard to contest paternity establishment when a fit father seeks to stop the adoption of his child, but does everything imaginable to establish paternity when child support is involved?” Recall of course that every state goes to the most draconian extremes to collect child support from single fathers. That often requires them to first establish paternity. States expend much effort doing so. But when Vargas voluntarily spends his own money to establish paternity of his child, the state resists tooth and nail.  

The answer of course is money. Washington pays states to establish paternity under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, ergo, they are happy to do so. Meanwhile, Utah adoption agencies and lawyers don’t get paid unless adoptions are finalized, so unlike child support cases, the state frowns bitterly on dads establishing their paternity to stop adoption.


M was placed in foster care, and her mother was offered "reunification services": a road map of requirements to regain custody, which involved treatment for addiction, maintaining stable employment, and random drug testing.

So a plainly unfit mother was offered reunification services, but a plainly fit and loving father is being shoehorned out of his daughter’s life. That not only makes no sense for the child, it doesn’t seem to comport with constitutional law on parental rights. It seems like a blatant abuse of the Equal Protection Clause, single fathers being treated differently from single mothers. Perhaps Vargas’s lawyer will raise the issue.

Finally, as I’ve said many times, the practice of forcing adoption on children like M who don’t need it is wrongheaded in every way. First, biological parents tend to do a better job of caring for kids than anyone else, so keeping a child with its biological dad is probably in its best interests. Plus, because there are far more children in the U.S. who need adoption than there are qualified adoptive parents to take them, forcing adoption on a child who doesn’t need it effectively deprives another child who does need adoption of qualified adoptive parents.

This is no way to run an adoption business, but it’s Utah’s way.

Please contribute to Vargas’s GoFundMe account if possible.


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