Writer Lays Bare Utah Adoption Industry

This article is a must-read (Salt Lake City Weekly, 7/28/10). To be blunt, it’s the best piece I’ve ever read on the subject of putative father registries and adoption. Moreover, its target is the State of Utah, which is, of all the fifty states, by far the worst offender when it comes to depriving fathers of their rights in adoption cases.

The article pretty much covers the waterfront. It deals with putative father registries generally and even quotes the director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute which is the authoritative source in the U.S. for adoption information.

“As they currently exist, [putative-father registries] too often are used to cut men out under the guise of cutting them in,’ says Adam Pertman, the executive director of the Boston-based Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

That’s spot on. From their inception in New York in the 1970s, putative father registries have had as their goal and their effect the removal of single fathers from adoption cases. That they violate the most basic tenets of due process should be obvious to all. The legal fiction they rely on is that, since men know that sex makes babies, every time a single man has sex with a woman he’s “on notice” that (a) conception occurred, (b) he won’t be informed of the pregnancy by the mother, (c) she’ll carry the pregnancy to term and (d) place the child for adoption without telling him. Therefore, more or less every time a single man has intercourse, he’s supposed to file a form with the putative father registry of the state. As one Texas family lawyer quipped to me years ago, “they ought to put a stack of forms in every men’s room of every club in the state.”

As bad as putative father registries are, adoption law in the State of Utah is far worse. Utah is the state that never saw an adoption it didn’t like or a single father that it did. Adoption lawyers and agencies across the country know that, if a single father looks like he’s going to stop an adoption in one state, just ship the mom to Utah and the dad’s chances drop to nothing.

The writer, Jesse Fruhwirth, gives several examples, two of which I’ve covered in the past. One I haven’t is the case of a man named Ramsey Shaud. Like so many others, he was sure that the woman who was pregnant with his child understood and agreed with his desire to raise their child, either with her or by himself. But she traveled to Arizona and then sent him a cryptic email saying she was going to Utah for a few days.

We’ve seen that before. In the Cody O’Dea case, the mother called him and spoke the words “I’m in Utah.” Why did she and the mother in the Shaud case say those things? It turns out that simply by doing so, the father then has 20 days in which to hire a Utah attorney and file his paternity suit. If he fails to do so, he’s out of luck.

Oh, and guess what. The attorney in the O’Dea case is the same one as in the Shaud case. He’s Larry Jenkins who, according to the article, represents an adoption agency and lobbies the legislature and testifies before its committees (often misleadingly) on behalf of ever more restrictive fathers’ rights in adoption cases.

But, as Fruhwirth tells us, even if a single dad does file suit inside of 20 days, he may still be out of luck. That’s because he has to allege in the suit that he has been willing to pay all of the mother’s medical expenses during pregnancy and set forth a plan of how he intends to care for the child. Ramsey Shaud hired an attorney and did both those things and still lost his child because the court decided his parenting plan wasn’t specific enough. What would have been specific enough? Utah law doesn’t say. It’s like throwing darts blindfolded; you think the board is there, but the state of Utah has moved it somewhere else.

The U.S. Supreme Court has unequivocally held that single fathers have parental rights, but the State of Utah is having none of it. Their antipathy for single fathers knows few bounds. After all, former Justice William Brennan once described U.S. Supreme Court law on the rights of single fathers this way:

[W]e have held that any exception to the requirement of parental consent (to adoption) must be strictly construed so as to protect the right of natural parents to raise and nurture their children.

[T]he parent’s interest is fundamental but the State has no legitimate interest in termination unless the parent is unfit, and finding that the State’s interest in finding the best home for the child does not arise until the parent has been found unfit.

Put simply, there is no possible way that Utah’s maze of anti-father adoption law could pass constitutional muster. By itself the idea that someone saying “I’m going to Utah” constitutes notice of the imminent compromise of rights the Supreme Court has called “far more precious than property rights,” boggles the mind. As I’ve said before, the most heinous mass murderer has far more due process rights than the most upstanding single father who wants nothing more than to care for his child.

We excoriate as a ‘deadbeat’ any father who loses his job and can’t make his child support payments because he’s “not taking responsibility” for his child. But in case after case we have single fathers who want to do just that and states (not just Utah) do everything in their power to prevent it. Go figure.

The only things I’d add to Fruhwirth’s fine piece are these: First, the children in the cases he’s writing about don’t need to be adopted. They have qualified, motivated fathers who want to care for them. By forcing adoption on them, courts are simultaneously denying adoption to children throughout the country and the world, who desperately need parents. If that’s not a crime, it should be.

Second, putative father registries tend to be closely-guarded secrets. In Texas, where I live, the state budgets zero funds to publicize either the registry or its effects on the rights of single fathers. Into the bargain, although the statute creating the registry requires forms to be available at various public sites, they’re not and the people at those sites (e.g. courthouses) stare at you blankly if you ask for them. The result is that single dads in Texas don’t know about the registry or what they stand to lose by failing to file. Years ago, I asked 100 men in downtown Houston and at the University of Houston if they had ever heard of the Texas Paternity Registry. None had.

But enough of me. Read Fruhwirth’s piece; but first take something to calm your nerves and lower your blood pressure.

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