She’s his biological daughter. He has fought for the right to have custody of her since her birth, yet the Utah Supreme Court has ruled that a Virginia man granted custody of his daughter in that state has no claim to the child in Utah — where the girl was ultimately adopted.
How could a father – who, by all accounts, is a responsible man – want to raise his daughter and be denied?
Here is what happened:
John Wyatt’s girlfriend, Emily Colleen Fahland, became pregnant while in college. She told Wyatt she was concerned about whether they could raise a child together. Wyatt tells the Washington Post Fahland sent him a text message on Feb. 5, 2009, saying she’d been in contact with a Utah adoption agency, but Wyatt says Fahland agreed to discuss options before a decision was made.
On February 11 a hospital operator confirmed to Wyatt that Fahland had given birth to a baby girl but when he and his mother got there they were told there was no such patient. It wasn’t until two days later that Wyatt received the news that his daughter had been relinquished for adoption.
Joshua Peterman, Wyatt’s attorney, argued a time-stamped receipt shows Wyatt filed visitation and custody petitions on Feb. 18 — five days before the Zarembinskis, a couple in Utah, initiated an adoption proceeding.
Wyatt sued to intervene but a Utah judge awarded the Zarembinksis temporary custody. Wyatt took the decision to the Utah Court of Appeals; in the meantime, a Virginia judge granted Wyatt full custody rights in December of 2009 and ordered Baby Emma’s return to Virginia. But the Virginia attorney general’s office said it lacked the authority to retrieve Emma from Utah. So Wyatt continued to fight to get Utah to recognize his parental rights. In that state, however, a birth mother’s consent is irrevocable once she signs the paperwork.
Yesterday the Utah Supreme Court’s rejected Wyatt’s appeal to overturn the adoption of his daughter finding he did not meet required deadlines for asserting his parental rights. They’re awarding custody of a man’s child to someone else based on a bunch of technicalities? He always wanted his daughter! He never said he didn’t!
Utah’s statute requires unmarried biological fathers to follow a strict time frame, regardless of where they reside or where a child is born, to preserve any right to object to an adoption. The biological father must show he did not and could not have known an adoption was being considered; begin court proceedings to establish his paternity before a birth mother gives consent for an adoption to proceed.
An attorney for the adoptive parents claim that although Wyatt filed for custody in Virginia the young man didn’t comply with other legal requirements in either state and didn’t file anything in Utah until April 28.
Deadlines? He never said he didn’t want his daughter. He wasn’t aware she was being adopted. How is he supposed to meet deadlines? The Zarambinkskis should have immediately stopped adoption proceedings once they realized bio dad was very much in the picture and wanted his baby.
Larry Jenkins, who represents Utah-based adoption agency A Act of Love, said that neither he nor the girl’s adopted parents could say much on the case due to a federal lawsuit still pending in Virginia in which Wyatt alleges he was fraudulently deprived of his parental rights. “I don’t know where it will go from here,” he said. “The only avenue from here is the U.S. Supreme Court, so we’ll see what happens.”
Wyatt tells the Salt Lake Tribune he’s not bowing down. “I am going to keep fighting for my daughter,” he said, adding a U.S. Supreme Court challenge is likely. “Whether I have to wait until she is of age, I want to be a part of her life. There is nothing anyone or those people can do to stop me from being part of her life.”
Utah law regarding adoptions is dramatically prejudiced against divorced or unmarried fathers. In fact, the Salt Lake Tribune reports there are several cases of fathers being denied their right to custody.
At least half a dozen unmarried biological fathers have waged unsuccessful efforts to stop adoptions in Utah. In one case, the court found a father was on notice when his pregnant girlfriend told him she was in Utah; in another, the court said a father failed to adequately show how he would provide for a child
Denying those biological fathers their parental rights in favor of biological mothers and adoptive parents seems to be automatic. What are the adoptive parents going to tell the child when she’s old enough? Your biological dad wanted to be your real dad, but we said no way and took it to the Supreme Court? He’s the biological dad, for hellsakes and the minute he said he wanted custody – just after the baby was born – the adoptive parents should’ve relinquished custody. I know it’s not an ideal scenario, it’s heartbreaking, but how could the adoptive parents not respond to a bio dad who wants his baby within weeks of her birth?
Who do you think should have custody of baby Emma?
Image: Salt Lake Tribune
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