Utah Yet Again–But This Time A Married (And Therefore Legal) Father

We’ve had many conversations about Utah and its adoption law here.  (One of these was actually very recent.)   There’s a new case that really does (in the words of TAO) take the cake.

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.

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46 responses to “Utah Yet Again–But This Time A Married (And Therefore Legal) Father

  1. Love in the petiton how he “abandoned” the mother…uhm…he was transferred while serving his country – nice slap in the face.

    • To the extent her statements were deliberate falsehoods I actually wonder if she is exposed to criminal liability for fraud. I wonder, too, about the agency. The facts from the press reports aren’t nearly clear enough to reach conclusions on this, but I do wonder. And I think when people deliberately lie to subvert procedures sanctions are important.

  2. Since Achane was a legal father at the time, why is his behavior towards the mother relevant? Is it a question of parental fitness?
    Why did the adoption agency proceed with the adoption knowing full well that it was probably not legal?
    Why do the Freis get to retain the child that they took? If they are challenging Achane’s parental fitness, Isn’t he innoccent until proven guilty? How can the child be withheld from him until he his given his due process?
    I wanna frei someone here.

    • Generally his behavior with regard to the mother wouldn’t be relevant except that 1) being married to her is crucial and 2) a possible claim of unfitness–which isn’t at issue here. I don’t know why the adoption agency proceeded unless it is just to make sure that kids end up with nice married UT couples. Not saying for a moment that’s a legit reason.

      Innocent until proven guilty is relevant in criminal cases and not this. Someone has to get the court to act to change the status quo. This court says that it will do so, but if the Frei’s appeal a higher court could issue a stay.

    • Ki:
      I’m Mark Wiser the attorney for Mr. Achane. Mr. Achane asked for a 60 day transition so his daughter would not suffer more than she has too. He is aware of the pain his daughter will suffer because of the adoptive parents behavior but wanted to do what is in his daughter’s best interest. He is the real parent that is placing his daughter’s needs above his immediate desires.

      • Mr Wiser if it took 12 years to bring this child back home he would still be doing the right thing for her. Even if he fails it will mean the world, THE WORLD to her that he fought for her so hard. When she is 30 looking back on her life she will assess the situation and know she was important to the man that created her and she will view it as horribly cruel for anyone to want to keep a person from her father and paternal family. It’s horrible and cruel thing they are doing to her. They think they are building their own family but they are not. It’s one thing to take an abandoned child and raise that child as if they were a member of your own family – its another thing to actively try to prevent a parent from fulfilling their responsibility to their child.

        I don’t think he has a right to raise his child I think he has an obligation to do so. I think she has a right to expect physical and financial support from the parents who created her and that anyone who attempts to prevent her from receiving what she is owed by her parents is doing her an injustice. It does not matter how married they are or how rich they are or how lovely her life might be with all their love and attention – they don’t owe her anything – her parents that made her do. No amount of effort on their part will ever make her their responsibilty the way that she is her father’s responsibility so they need to just get out of the damn way and let him do his job. If it takes 10 years to win her back that is his job to do it. She’ll get over loosing them she will never recover from being taken force-ably out of her own family.

        Good luck to you. I reunite separated families for free. I hope you guys win. I feel sad for those people they must not understand she will only resent them.

  3. Aha I see on TAO’s blog they don’t get to keep the kid forever while stalling and creating endless appeals, they have a 2 month period. Well that is still way too long as far as I am concerned, but it does make me feel better.

    • That’s unless a higher court issues a stay pending appeal. These things do happen. Often courts decide to leave things as they are while they are thinking. But this might be an exceptional case since it’s hard to see what claim the Frei’s have. (The thing is, they may well have some claim–it just isn’t clear from press accounts what it is.) Lot’s we don’t know.

  4. its just too bad that the judge’s ruling can’t be applied to unmarried fathers in the same situation

    • This is because unmarried men in those cases aren’t legal fathers. Indeed, the whole structure of UT law is keyed to when a man gets recognition as a legal father. And this is exactly why it marries. A man who is a legal father has rights to participate in the process.

  5. Here’s another piece of stupidity. How does the state know the Freis won’t get divorced anyway? 50% divorces.

  6. Ki sarita,

    The Frei’s are appealling and it is “possible” the judge will allow them to keep the child in the mean time. Apparently according to their “fundraising” blog they have hired a well-known adoption attorney in Utah and have asked for that.

    I JUST do not understand.

    And people wonder why we are “angry adoptees” who get upset at how adoption is practiced today.

    • I would like to read their blog–do you have a link? I cannot find it.

    • since achane was a legal father, I fail to understand why they were allowed to keep her at all while the legal case was pending. He was a legal parent and they were nobody, not even adoptive parents since no legal adoption was completed.
      As I understand, their whole case was about trying to overturn his ACKNOWLEDGED parental rights so that they could then complete the adoption. How could they be allowed to hold onto someone else’s child in the interim?

    • Oh they hired Larry Jenkins. Why am I not at all surprised?

      • Their first attorney was Kasey Wright who was recommended by the adoption agency. They hired Larry Jenkins after they lost at court.

      • who is this larry jenkins dude?

        • A particularly scummy lawyer in Utah who has been involved in pretty much every contested Utah adoption that has made the news.

          • Much as I like lively conversation here I would like you all to work to keep comments like this last from Rebecca to a minimum. Calling someone particularly scummy doesn’t do much except tell me that you don’t like what he does. It’s much more useful to say that he is a lawyer who has handled a number of cases on behalf of Utah adoptive parents, which I believe is actually true.

            You can always express personal opinions about people off-line in private conversation or somewhere else on the web. I worry about the tone of the conversation degrading here as it sometimes does on blogs. I’d like to keep to what I think are serious topics where we can actually disagree or agree civilly.

    • They have a fund raising website.
      I think I just threw up a little bit.

  7. frei-adoption.com – tabs at top show you updates

  8. Julie said: “To the extent her statements were deliberate falsehoods I actually wonder if she is exposed to criminal liability for fraud. I wonder, too, about the agency. The facts from the press reports aren’t nearly clear enough to reach conclusions on this, but I do wonder. And I think when people deliberately lie to subvert procedures sanctions are important.”

    I do too! I have no idea what current Utah rules are in what the petitioners submit but this is the wording on my adoption petition – to me it would make mom and dad liable.

    “[Blank] and [Blank] being first duly sworn, on oath depose and say: They are the petitioners above named, have read the foregoing Petition for Adoption; know the contents thereof, and believe the same to be true.” Then they signed / dated and the notory signed it.

  9. Ki:
    Their website contains false information. They wanted him to send them money, pay for diapers, food, etc., and to prove himself. He is not getting a free attorney, although I am working with him on costs. He had to fly to Utah for a deposition, rent a car and hotel room, show up for a 2 day trial at his expense. These are expenses he incurred but as a military serviceman on a tight budget. The adoptive parents made over $100,000 annually.

    • Many people are interested in seeing the court documents. Are the confidential because this is a juvenile case?

    • Really odd. They also blatantly lied about what the law is.
      It seems they expect people to side with them just because of their religion. And perhaps also their color.
      Other than that, what reasonable person wouldn’t at least wonder what the other side of the story was before signing over a hefty check?
      Why would people consider it a credible complaint that he failed to establish a relationship with a child WHILE THEY WERE WITHHOLDING HER?
      Do they really expect people to cry for their plight on how they couldn’t have another child after 4 healthy children?
      I also find it interesting that they never once mention skin color- although the pictures make it obvious. They just say they wanted their other adopted child to have a sibling “like him.” without explaining.
      Now I understand why they were so eager to have to adoption go through despite the risks. Then “needed” this black child so their other adopted black child wouldn’t feel out of place.
      I really do feel bad that this little boy is going to lose his sister. As an adopted child- especially a transracial adoptee- it’s going to make him very insecure for sure. They shoulda thought of that first.
      But they also never mention that Teleah had another sibling too, her mom’s first child. That child losing a sibling- not worth even a mention.

      • I feel bad for that child the same way I feel bad for the Vaughns’ kids (if you remember that case) – they were another couple who fought really hard for an adoption against the father’s wishes (and lost after 3 years) despite the fact that when the baby was born they had one child and another on the way (prospective mom was 6+ months pregnant when the child they fought for was born).

      • And you know, when the couple has no kids, I can understand the desperation. While I still believe the couple in the Baby Emma case were wrong in every way and will have a lot to answer for when she grows up and realizes what happens (and despite them settling to avoid a public trial for the civil lawsuit they can’t hide it) I dug around for some info and apparently they had a baby that didn’t survive as they were in an infant loss group and too old to have more kids. Still wrong, but I can understand the desperation. This case? Not so much.

    • Mr. Wiser – thank you for helping the father…good people always prosper in the long run – I think primarily because they can sleep at night knowing they did the right thing.

  10. I was on facebook yesterday on the Utah Council for Ethical Adoption Practices page and a post by Mr. Hutchins unrelated to this case – made the comment (paraphrasing him here (not a quote)) that sometimes an agency will charge less for at risk placements vs guaranteed placements, i.e $25K vs $40-50K…in cases where the father has signed off.
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/358638794196890/?fref=ts

    If that is something that does happen – then the adopting parents know up front, and no matter how they back pedal they can’t say they weren’t aware of problems when the pricing is so different.

  11. I think the child should be returned to her biological father, The Freis and the birth mother as well as the adoption agency should be sued or even criminally charged. This father is serving his country, what his ex did was not only in my mind unamerican but also criminal. The Freis knew this and still wen ahead with their criminal actions in conspiricy with the agency and the mother.

  12. I am truly amazed that they think they have more rights than the father does. I do understand that there may be information that is not being told. But, this sounds disturbing on so many levels. 1. The mother deliberately lied. 2. they were told that there might be problems later on. 3. they sent the father the adoption paperwork and he said no. Then, they act like they are surprised because he did not agree to it.
    I don’t understand how they feel that they are right. On their blog, they say that he did not try to have contact with her? If he has asked to see her and they legally told him no, then how could he see her to form the bond? It is apparent that he wants his daughter back if he is choosing to pursue this avenue through legal channels. This is horrible. I hope he gets her back and that another court rules for biological parental rights.

  13. He found out what had happened 3 motnhs after his child and wife disappeared. He contacts the agency (who block him), and all of a sudden the next month he recieves a petition from this family (who was told from the start he did not know his child was being given away) to legally adopt. If I had gone through everything that they had just in order to have another child- I must say that having him sign over the rights would have been so important to me that I would have been trying to contact him every week!!! They know the child is not theirs and rather then helping her transist the keep her from him. Imagine what the world would be like if more men WANTED their child. My dad told me once “Being a dad is a privilidge and an honor. Any man who is not willing to fight and sacrifice to have their children with them ALWAYS does not deserve to be a dad.”

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