Will Utah Change Its Treatment of Unmarried Fathers?

Last summer there was some discussion here about the laws of Utah.   This was in the context of adoption.   Utah is singularly hostile to men who are unmarried fathers.    Unless they act very swiftly, the state will not recognize them as legal parents.  The means that children can be placed for adoption without their consent.  Indeed, you don’t even have to give them notice if they aren’t parents.   The earlier discussion sprang from a case of that ilk that had gotten some publicity.    Now there are a couple of developments that might suggest that Utah is moderating its position, at least in a small way.    I’ll use the next couple of posts to discuss them.

First, here is a report of a very recent decision by the Utah Supreme Court.   It’s rather long and complicated, but bear with me.

In 2007 Carie Terry, who lived in Colorado, became pregnant.   The baby was due in late March, 2008.   Robert Manzanares, the biological father of the child, communicated with her throughout the pregnancy and provided some financial support.   He did so even though they had split up shortly after she became pregnant.  While Terry expressed her desire to place the child for adoption, Manzanares stated that he wanted to raise the child, even if he had to do so alone.

In November 2007 Terry contacted a Colorado adoption agency which in turn contacted Manzanares.   The agency asked him to sign a consent to an adoption.  Consistent with his desire to raise the child, he refused.

In January 2008 Terry wrote to Manzanares to tell him she was making a brief trip to Utah to see her father.   She lead him to believe that discussions about the child would continue upon her return.  According to the court, this wasn’t her actual intention.  Her plan was really to give birth to the child in Utah, presumably to take advantage of the state’s particularly stringent laws.   (If you look at the bottom of page six of the opinion you will see the statement of Utah’s law:  Generally the birth father’s consent is not required unless he has commenced paternity proceedings in Utah before the birth mother executes her consent to the adoption.)

Apparently Manzanares was suspicious, because after receiving the note, but still in January, he filed a paternity action in Colorado.   While there’s obvious sense to that (Terry and Mananares both lived there) you can see trouble on the horizon given Utah’s law.

While Manzanares’ action was pending, however, Terry went to Utah where her sister and brother-in-law signed a petition for the adoption for the baby that was expected to be born.

Then in February, Terry gave birth–six weeks early and in Utah.   The next day there were legal proceedings set for both states.  In Utah the sister and brother-in-law had a hearing on the adoption.   In Colorado Manzanares had a hearing on his motion to establish paternity.    Terry called the Colorado court to say she would not be appearing, but neglected to mention either that she had given birth or that there was a hearing in Utah that day to confirm the adoption of the child.

The Colorado court continued the hearing, presumably thinking this would allow Terry to attend.  In the Utah court  Terry agreed to the termination of her parental rights but did not tell the court anything about the Colorado court proceedings.

As soon as Terry returned to Colorado, Manzanares realized that the baby had been born.  He attempted to locate the baby in Colorado and when that failed he called the sister and brother-in-law in Utah.   They told him he would be contacted by counsel but didn’t tell him about the pending adoption.

Prompted by Manzanares, the Colorado court moved fairly swiftly.  It held several days of hearings and on March 3 it signed an order of paternity and ordered that his name appear on the birth certificate.

Now here’s what I find quite shocking.  When the Utah court considered all this it found that Terry had deliberately mislead Manzanares, but for reasons I do not fully understand, the district court still affirmed the adoption.  I think the idea was that there were enough warning signs that Manzanares really should have done something in Utah.

The news here is that the Utah Supreme Court reversed this ruling.   It confirmed that the birth father is required to act quickly, and thus didn’t make large changes in Utah law.  But it found that while Manzanares believed that the child would be born and/or adopted in Utah, he didn’t actually know that.   Thus, his actions in Colorado just might save him.   (The case is remanded to work that part out.)

I confess that this all leaves me quite confused about Utah law.   It does seem that if Manzanares knew that Terry planned to give birth in Utah, taking action in Colorado would not help him.   But I’d best stop here for now and pick it up tomorrow.

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18 responses to “Will Utah Change Its Treatment of Unmarried Fathers?

  1. That child will hate his or her adopted parents forever if he/she finds out they deliberately kept them away from their father. And it will be deserved hatred. What kind of monsters would want to adopt a child where the parent was fighting to keep them? I mean really what kind of hideous monster would do such a thing? How could they possibly think they are in the right? Because they bought some baby clothes and were “intending to parent”? Guess what the kid already has parents! All kids have parents already! If he was unfit to raise his child they could open a cps case and adopt the child after he proved unfit – not before. People can be so selfish and cruel.

    • I don’t really disagree with you in substance, Marilynn, but the certainty with which you express yourself does make me kind of crazy. I don’t know any of the people involved here and I assume you do not either. I don’t have any basis for saying with certainty that “this child WILL hate his or her…” Maybe so. Maybe there’s a really high risk. Surely the conduct is wrong from any number of points of view. But unless you’ve got a crystal ball, I don’t see how you can know for sure what will happen. The range of human experience and reaction is pretty broad, you know?

      The only reason I’m picking on this is because I really do think it goes to a central disagreement between us. You are always so sure about the importance of genetic linkages and that’s what leads you to many of your conclusions. Can you not agree that for some people genetic linkages aren’t important? Is that really out of the question?

      • No I’m positive that they are interfering where they have no place. See you focus on genetic linkage as what I am saying is so important. I’m not. They are stealing from the child it does not matter if it is valuable or not. It does not matter whether they think its valuable or whether the child ultimately grows to find it valuable – they are meddling with and attempting to block the child from having what it was born to at least know and be known to. They are attempting to sever relationships that are not theirs to sever. If genetic relationships are irrellevant to them and they think loosing contact with genetic relatives is no big deal then they should sever contact with their genetic relatives, not the child’s. If genetic relatives are so unimportant they should simply not pursue a relationship with this particular child. That would be being true to their philosophy of genetic relationships don’t count and they would not be interfering with anyone else’s freedoms or liberties. Get it now? Finally? It has nothing to do with importance it has to do with keeping their grubby little hands off of other people’s stuff. They can untie their own laces

        • I think you’ve misunderstood my objection. I’ll agree with the interfering part, mostly. And in no way do I mean to defend the conduct here.

          What I’m reacting to is your very first sentence: “The child will hate …forever.” Really–you cannot know that with certainty, if for no other reason than that some people have a real capacity for forgiveness. There are so many ways this might play out.

          Everything that you say could be argued and you may well be right about a lot. I’m not quibbling with that here. But when you insist on this level of clarivoyance it makes me crazy. I would say that none of us can know the future for sure.

          • Ok it will probably not be pure hate. It will be that kind of anger tempered with loving them for having raised them but being furious that they would make a decision to sever their ties to their father and paternal relatives as the ties are not theirs to be severing.

            As for not having a crystal ball I go back to our conversation on ethics:
            If you untie someone else’s laces, because it keeps them from walking very far from you, there is a good chance they’ll trip and you know it. Maybe they’ll be real hurt, maybe they won’t, but going out of your way to make walking away from you as difficult as possible, is not the kind of action that garners love and respect. The opposite reaction is far more likely and should be anticipated and planned for.

            If they don’t prevent the child from being raised by his/her father, there is no chance the child will hate them for severing ties with the father and father’s family.

            Fighting the father to adopt his child would be the ethical thing for them to do if they could demonstrate in court that he was unfit do to previous molestation convictions and restraining orders for beating the child’s mother and they were looking to adopt in order to keep the children from being adopted away from their family and they had no real desire to prevent the child from knowing the father’s other family members if they could monitor visitation to ensure the dangerous father was not around. But that is not what they are doing so it is unlikely the child would have any reason to appreciate the wisdom of their decision. Plan for resentment. Be surprised if it does not happen.

            So I am very passionate about messing with people’s liberties, it does not necessarily mater to me what the object is – it might be relatives or it might be money or some other thing. I think there is something to be said for reasonably anticipating the results of an action something akin to theft or interference with someone’s rightful enjoyment of something, such as peace and quite; if I have a chainsaw running in my apartment at three am, on Tuesdays and Thursdays when I get my fresh lumber, I’m going to piss some people off and my neighbors will end up hating me for it – its not a reach.

            Interfere with other people’s rights and expect a revolt.

            I am sorry I drive you crazy. I’m glad I make you think.

          • From now on I’ll couch those kind of statements by saying that its reasonable to anticipate this or that reaction.

            Is it reasonable to anticipate that a person will be happy about having been allowed to ejoy their inheritance (money)? Its possible that they might say “thanks I just would have blown it on drugs and loose women if you had not taken it and spent it on a facelift. I’m not mad.” It’s not real likely. And don’t forget that forgiveness does not actually mean that what we did was right. Anyone whose spent a week taking care of a kid will forgive a multitude of deliberate misbehavior, but they generally qualify the forgiveness by reminding the kid that what they did is wrong and they better not do it again. Maybe I should say that the kid will hate the action and not the people – but its wise to remember that people don’t generally separate the two unless your golden in other respects.

            • I’m sorry but that brings me back to the whole telling the child the truth thing. Which is very similar to confessing seems like. Does the kid’s acceptance of the truth eliminate the need for the people raising the child to be forgiven by the child? I mean if those people placed the child in a compromising position rather than merely rescuing them from one.

            • And I will be contented if you say “it’s reasonable to anticipate” or “it’s likely” or anything like that. Then we can have the real conversation about what we agree and disagree about. Thanks.

        • The child is actually current being raised by a genetic relative not that it makes it any better. The adoptive parents are the child’s uncle (biological) and his wife.

          • It makes something of a difference; the child will grow up knowing its biological mother and will probably refer to the adoptive parents as aunt and uncle- a lot less confusion.
            But the fact taht hte law specifically allows fraud- I find that outrageous.

  2. Julie, there is a specific section of the Utah Adoption Act that states birth mother fraud does not impact the adoption – even if proven, the birth father can only get damages. State sanctioned fraud – only in adoption…

    I think the Utah Supreme Court made the right decision in this case for many reasons, one of which belief does not raise to the level of knowledge especially considering the early delivery and her testimony in the Colorado case, another of the four conditions failed because her note said visit vs stay so residency was not on the table.

    The law is designed to ensure fathers do not have rights. What other law in the states requires both a putative fathers registration AND a pleadings of paternity/parenting complete with a detailed parenting plan etc to be filed with the court at the same time. Without the pleading the registration doesn’t hold weight. With the new proposed changes to the law there is a delay in submitting the pleading and certified notification to the father in out of state cases.

    http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/53392366-78/adoption-utah-bill-notice.html.csp

    What this case again highlights is the need for expedited court proceedings. Now it goes back to court again and the little one is now how old – almost 4? Abnd it will be settled when the little one is what 5 or 6? The court needs to act in the best interests of the child – the right to a speedy trial – it could have been over and done with in a year if they had wanted it to.

    • They do need to expedite these kinds of cases. It should never take this long. I had listened to the oral arguments for this case on audio and the justices had seemed really disturbed by the mother denying in her response to the court in Colorado that she would give the baby up in Utah. I think that was the main reason it was ruled that he could not have reasonably known.

  3. From last to first: I totally agree about time. The passage of time here is just creating all sorts of problems. Whatever is done should be done quickly. I fear that often family law cases do not get high priority for any number of reasons and that’s really awful.

    I want to talk separately about the proposed changes to Utah law–I hope to do that later today. But in general, I agree with you about Utah’s approach to all this. It is extraordinarily harsh. There is some interesting discussion in the majority and the dissent about the rationale for these choices. The legislature has chosen to elevate some values and denigrate others. The court here may not be acting in the same spirit, but there are reasons for that.

    What I mean is that this case also raises a point I’ve written about before–the tension between the general (which is how the legislature thinks about things) and the specific (which is how courts see it.) I might go back to this in a main post, but basically I think it is nigh on impossible to read the specific facts of this case and feel like the guy got a fair shake. I think that has to influence judges.

  4. Utah has one of the lowest incidence of births to unmarried women. I can’t help but suspect such laws will be defended as helping to keep childbearing within marriage. Loss of paternity rights is one cruel example of why I think linking marriage & childbearing (Julie’s earlier post) is dangerous. Unwed women make up a larger & larger percentage of the number of women who deliver each year. 2009 – 41%. We simply can no longer punish men or women for out of wedlock births. We must accept the reality & update our laws to a trend that has grown every year for decades. Otherwise we will wind up with more men like the guy in this story.

    • Isn’t Utah’s position kind of a glaring example of church and state mingling? Why is that not an easy thing to defeat? Then again the whole gay marriage thing ought to be open and shut on the same grounds. There I go being logical again forgive me.

  5. Girls get married in Utah very young. For nifty Utah marriage and birth rates
    see
    http://health.utah.gov/opha/publications/other/mih/chaptr1.pdf

    • Good stats. Thanks.

      I’ve tried to move this conversation along with another post I just put up. It seems clear to me that Utah disapproves of children being raised in non-marital families and so has structured its law to increase the likelihood that they will be raised in married households. Many people-some motivated by religious belief, but some not–would probably agree that it is best for kids to be in married households, though they might not go to the lengths Utah has gone to encourage that result. (The young age of marriage would be consistent with this.) Do go read today’s post to see this spelled out a bit more. https://julieshapiro.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/back-to-the-utah-case-the-general-principles-and-the-specific-facts/

      • The odd thing is that it’s perfectly legal in Utah for unmarried adults to adopt, as long as they are not in a cohabitating relationship. A child could theoretically end up with a single adoptive parent. I’m not sure how common it is, but it’s definitely legal.

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