A father from Colorado recently scored a victory in the fight against Utah’s controversial adoption laws, shortly after the governor signed a bill that takes steps into closing some of the law’s loopholes.
Until earlier this month, unmarried pregnant women were able to come to Utah, give birth and put the child up for adoption without notifying the biological father. On top of that, the state’s fraud immunity statute also prevented an adoption from being overturned in cases where the mother lied, creating a haven where women had 100 percent control of a child’s future. This essentially stripped the (very few) rights an unwed father actually has, leaving them with few options if they wanted to be a part of their child’s life.
In the first victory of its kind over Utah’s fraud immunity order, Robert Manzanares was awarded joint-custody and saw his daughter, Kaia, for the first time in six years. He has since gone on to file an appeal for sole custody.
The Utah Supreme Court found the fraud so extreme in his case that it warranted overturning the adoption — despite the fraud immunity.
After Manzanares’ ex announced she was pregnant and intended to put the child up for adoption, he continued to be there for her and financially support her. Even after they separated, he remained involved, all the while expressing his desire to raise the child. However, Manzanares’ ex was told by a Bishop of the Mormon Church that the only way she would be accepted back into the church was if the child was adopted by a Mormon family. Claiming she was going to visit a sick relative in Utah, she ended up having the baby prematurely and letting her brother adopt Kaia — on the same day that Manzanares filed a paternity action with the Colorado court, no less.
And while this case may seem unique, Manzanares isn’t the only father who has dealt with having the rights to their child taken away by a deceptive mother and Utah’s controversial adoption laws. Many other cases are ongoing, and a civil rights lawsuit from over a dozen men has been filed against the state of Utah, alleging that the Utah Adoption Act has enabled “legalized fraud and kidnapping.”
Luckily, steps are being taken in the right direction to fix the gaping holes in these laws. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert recently signed into law a bill that requires unwed mothers who decide to give up their infants for adoption to live in the state for at least 90 days; otherwise, they must file information about the father with the court. It also allows biological fathers to challenge the adoption, which won’t necessarily stop it from happening, but does give them more of a chance to remain a part of their child’s life.
Though the new law doesn’t fix all of the problems — women can still lie, sign an affidavit claiming to have been in Utah for three months and have the adoption covered under the fraud immunity clause — it is a place to start. The view from many supporters of the current adoption practice that the law shouldn’t be modified because it only hurts a small number of people is extremely flawed; go ahead and try to justify that to the fathers who have the ability and desire to raise their child, but are stripped of that right.
“You know we’re schizophrenic in this country about fathers. On the one hand, we say no to deadbeat dads. ‘They gotta step up, they gotta care for their kids.’ And on the other hand, we say ‘Oh, they’re sperm donors. Let’s cut them out, we don’t even have to include them and they’re not going to be in the process.'”
The fight for the rights of unwed fathers will continue. The attitude that every man who fathers a child out of wedlock is an irresponsible lowlife is highly offensive to the many who want nothing more than to love, support and raise their child. Every victory is a small step in the right direction, and at least one father has been afforded an opportunity that many others would envy — the chance to hold his little girl.
Mat Camp is a former Lexicon Services Online Editor, who focused on providing a comprehensive look into all aspects of the divorce experience. On MensDivorce.com, he concentrated on issues, such as parenting time, custodial rights, mediation, the division of assets, and so much more.
Mr. Camp used the wealth of experience of Cordell & Cordell attorneys to bring tangible answers to reader questions in Ask a Lawyer articles, as well as offer a step by step process through the divorce experience with Cordell & Cordell Co-Founder and Principal Partner Joseph E. Cordell in Divorce 101: A Guide for Men.
Mr. Camp used thorough research to highlight the challenging reality that those who go through divorce or child custody issues face. He helped foster the continued success of the Men’s Divorce Survival Guide, the Men’s Divorce Podcast, and the Men’s Divorce YouTube series “Attorney Bites.”