Utah has a strong public policy (expressed by the legislature) in favor of having children raised in married heterosexual families. Thus, it is extremely willing–there are times one might be tempted to say eager–to promote adoptions where there is a single mother and it is concomitantly stingy in its recognition of parental rights in unmarried men. After all, if the men have parental rights then it some due process would be required before the rights could be terminated. It’s much easier to engineer adoptions if the unmarried man has no legal parental rights.
Anyway, here’s a recent (and frankly appalling) case an insupportable extension of that practice. Tira Bland and Terry Achane were married and lived in Texas. (This is not a trivial detail–in parentage law, marriage is often a critical point.) Bland became pregnant as the relationship between Bland and Achane deteriorated.
Bland was worried about being left as a single mother and so apparently wanted to elect abortion or place the child for adoption. But Achane didn’t agree–he wanted to raise the child. In the end, when Achane was posted to South Carolina, Bland went to Utah to give birth. This was on March 1, 2011. I am not an expert on Utah law by any means, but I am fairly confident that when the child was born, Achane became a parent. As a legal parent, his rights were protected by due process and the child could not properly be placed for adoption without a much more elaborate process than that extended to unmarried men. But that process didn’t happen. (Here I’m going to quote at length from the press coverage. Remember, though, that there may be details we don’t know from these reports.)
Two days later, Bland relinquished her parental rights and the infant was placed with the Freis [adoptive parents]. At the time, Bland claimed her husband had abandoned her and was not interested in raising the child, according to the ruling.
Bland told the Adoption Center of Choice it could reach her husband in Texas, though she knew he was in South Carolina and thus would not receive any legal notices sent to his former address. Bland also apparently withheld Achane’s telephone number from the agency and later claimed she did not contact him about the birth because her phone wasn’t working.
The adoption agency informed the Freis that the father did not know his daughter had been placed for adoption in Utah and it was likely he would contest the placement if he found out. The Freis, the judge noted in his ruling, “acknowledged this risk but decided they wanted to proceed forward with the adoptive placement anyway.”
I cannot tell from this whether in fact Achane got any notice at all. Neither can I tell what steps the adoption agency actually took. It does seem that the agency and the adoptive parents (the Freis) knew that Bland was married, in which case they also knew that this child had another legal parent who wanted to raise her. But of course, he would have raised her as a single parent (since the marriage was by then being dissolved) and that is not what Utah wants to see, I guess.
It wasn’t until June 2011 that Achane was able to figure out what had happened (because somehow his wife moving to Utah to put the child up for adoption wasn’t on the top of the list of possibilities). When he did he contacted the agency. The agency asked him to consent to the adoption which he refused to do.
This next part is really astonishing to me:
the Freis proceeded with the adoption. In their adoption petition, filed in July 2011, the couple acknowledged Achane was married to Bland when the child was conceived and born and that he had never consented to the adoption. They asked that his parental rights be terminated because he “abandoned the natural mother during her pregnancy” and “had not developed a substantial relationship” or otherwise taken responsibility for his daughter.
Achane intervened in the case and in October, more than a year later, a two-day hearing finally took place.
During that hearing, a representative for the Adoption Center of Choice testified that it was “standard practice” to not provide any information when a father — married or not — of a prospective adoptive child called the agency. Kristi Freis told the court that although they knew Achane wanted his child, she and her husband felt they had no obligation to return the baby.
To be fair, the judge in this case seems to have shared a sense of outrage. (At the same time, the case took quite a while to get before a judge and as I’ve said elsewhere, the passage of time in the life of young children creates all sorts of issues.) He ordered the child returned to Achane. Of course, the Freis have a right to appeal and perhaps they will. What will happen to the child in the interval? You can see the arguments each side will make. But in a case where it seems the outcome is so clear (I cannot imagine a theory on which Achane loses), you’d hope that nothing will delay the inevitable.