Utah Paper Ramps Up Pressure for Fathers’ Rights

January 19th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
I’ve criticized the State of Utah plenty for doing its utmost to come between single fathers and their children.  I thought I knew the extent of it, but this article shows I hadn’t plumbed the depths (Salt Lake City Tribune, 12/24/11).  To be clear, United States Supreme Court precedents make it clear that, in this country, biological parents have rights to their children.  And states can’t interfere with or diminish those rights without a finding of unfitness on the part of the parent.

That said, I’ve never fully grasped how putative father registries could pass constitutional muster.  After all, their concept of “notice” to the father that his rights can be terminated at any time in favor of strangers, i.e. adoptive parents, is that he had sex with a woman not his wife at some point in the recent past.  Because he did so, he is expected to know (a) that conception occurred, (b) that the woman didn’t terminate the pregnancy and (c) that she placed the child for adoption.  The simple fact is that he could know none of the three with any certainty.  Further, the fact that the state thinks and the Supreme Court agrees that he knows all of them and has no interest in the child says a lot about the anti-father nature of putative father registries.

In my own research and that of others, I’ve been struck by the lengths to which states with PFRs go to hide themselves.  A couple of years ago I did a post with a link to a piece by a young man in Ohio chronicling the kafkaesque things he had to do to comply with that state’s PFR law.  I use the term ‘kafkaesque’ advisedly; the fellow’s piece reminded me specifically of a particular scene in The Trial.

Texas simply ignores the parts of the law that require the state to make forms for registering paternity available in a variety of public places.  I went to those places and not a soul knew what I was talking about when I requested forms to file a claim of paternity.  The various courts and agencies were supposed to have the forms, but none did, not a one.

But, as usual when it comes to denying parental rights to fathers, Utah is the worst.  The linked to article takes off from a case I’ve reported on – that of Ramsey Shaud and Shasta Tew.  They had an affair, she became pregnant and he was overjoyed at the prospect of having and raising a child.  She was less so and fled their native Florida leaving him a note saying she was going to Arizona and Utah. 

Shaud was nervous about her intentions, so he filed with the Arizona PFR.  No problem.  Then he turned to Utah. 

That same day, Shaud had no trouble finding a form for Arizona’s registry online; he printed it, filled it out and mailed it in. But despite hours spent dissecting the Utah Department of Health’s website, which he figured was the logical place to look, Shaud was unable to locate a similar form or information about what he needed to do here.

That’s because Utah, unlike most states with registries aimed at unmarried fathers, doesn’t make a form or directions on how to proceed available online. In fact, the phrase “putative father,” used in state law to describe an unwed biological father, isn’t mentioned anywhere on the websites of the health department or Office of Vital Records and Statistics, the agency charged with maintaining Utah’s registry. Utah law requires that forms be made available through local health departments, but office policy is not to do so, according to Director Janice Houston.

“The state makes the form available at the [Utah] Department of Health, but you have to pick it up in person, which is impossible for a father who lives out of state,” said Joshua Peterman, an attorney who has three active cases involving unmarried fathers.

So, like Texas, Utah violates its own statutes regarding the availability of PFR forms.  Not only that, but they don’t even include the statutory term “putative father” on their website, making browsing for the forms dicey to say the least.  Then, if by some miracle the man actually finds out how to obtain the form, he learns that he has to come to the Utah Deparment of Health to get it.  They won’t mail one; he can’t download one off their site. 

Why?  Well, I’d argue it’s the usual reason – overt antipathy for single fathers.  If someone can suggest something else, I’m happy to listen.

So anti-father is Utah that its requirements to establish paternity and stop the adoption of one’s child are hard to meet even for attorneys who supposedly understand them.

Utah requires unmarried fathers to strictly follow a process that includes filing a paternity action, registering with the putative father registry, providing a detailed child care plan and paying or attempting to pay pregnancy-related expenses. Most often, fathers lose because they don’t meet Utah deadlines, as happened in Shaud’s case. A lower court judge ruled his consent to his daughter’s adoption was not required because he didn’t meet a filing deadline — a delay Shaud argues was caused by Utah’s four-day workweek and a federal holiday.

But some of the more than 25 higher court rulings in Utah since 1959 have turned on other missteps in the process, including some one justice described as “very minor issues of noncompliance.”

In 2008, Nikolas Thurnwald lost his case because he didn’t get an amended court document notarized or explain who would tend the child while he was at work. That same year, a father identified in court documents only as “C.C.D” declared he would assume full financial responsibility for the child but lost because he did not get a court order of child support or detail what would happen to the child if he were deported.

Given the, yes, kafkaesque nature of Utah law, it’s no surprise that people bent on taking a child from its father come from all over the country to do so.  Face it, if your goal is to cut a single dad out of his children’s lives, Utah just makes it too easy to win to go anywhere else.

Unsurprisingly, that’s developed quite a cottage industry among attorneys and adoption agencies who are personally unscrupulous enough to turn a deaf ear when transparent lies are told.

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