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.
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.