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Utah’s Push to Protect Unwed Fathers

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Utah_FlagWhen pregnant couples aren’t together and the mother chooses adoption, the dad has to scramble to find out where she’ll be giving birth if he wants to stop the adoption from happening. When only the mother wants to give a child up for adoption, the father doesn’t have any options.

One lawmaker in Utah has lost patience with Congress when it comes to activating a national father registry. Sen. Luz Robles of Salt Lake City wants to start an e-registry for unwed fathers and adoption advocates to use. It might even spread to other states, since paternity filings within adoption cases are a hot topic.

Recently, Sen. Robles spoke with the Health and Human Services Interim Committee to present his proposal, which he claims is intended to get justice and equity for unwed dads. Paternity filings can grow especially messy when fathers who aren’t residents of Utah are struggling to become a part of a Utah child’s life.

An example Robles wants to avoid

One victim of the system, Ramsey Shaud, was unable to prevent his daughter’s adoption. The Utah Supreme Court decided in 2012 that he was “improperly denied” his right to intervene. Shaud’s Utah paperwork was filed before his daughter’s birth, but it wasn’t processed for several days due to a federal holiday. He’d worked diligently, filing documents in Florida and Arizona as well, because of rumors that the mother would visit those states during the winter holidays.

Five days after giving birth, the mother placed the baby for adoption and Shaud didn’t find out in time. He isn’t alone, and his story isn’t unique. In many cases, it’s nearly impossible for the father to track down the mother-to-be, and even if he does find her in time, that doesn’t mean his paperwork will be honored.

Another father’s story

Rob Manzanares had a similar experience. His ex-girlfriend was pregnant, but he didn’t see a red flag when she said she was visiting a relative in Utah. Manzanares didn’t realize her being in Utah would stop him from having a say in an adoption process.

He’d already filed his paternity paperwork in Colorado, their home state, well before the birth. A previous court decision had ruled that if a woman called the father of her child to say she was “in Utah,” that qualified as telling the father he’d better act fast to get his rights in that state.

That ruling was overruled when Manzanares went to court, but all that meant was that his rights had been denied, not that he automatically won paternity rights. Issues like these are what have adoption advocates up in arms, and it’s clear why a national registry is needed. It’s too easy for a mother to give birth in Utah and thus essentially nix the rights of the father.

Working toward equality

This isn’t the first time a national father registry has been proposed. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana tried unsuccessfully. Some organizations believe such a law will make it even more difficult for dads to get their rights. Utah is one of three states that requires fathers to both register and initiate a court action in order to intervene in an adoption. Other states require no action or only a state agency filing.

Utah has a unique law that requires fathers to assert paternity within 24 hours of a child’s birth. There are 20 extra days if the dad can prove he didn’t know the child was born in Utah, but by then it might be too late. Since the state’s vital records office only uses hard copy filings, dads have to come to Utah to file their paperwork, which is a huge hurdle for some on such short notice.

Some non-profits are dedicated to stopping unwarranted foster care placement, but that’s not enough to help dads of children born in Utah. Some women head to Utah knowing the red tape is too much for the father of their children, “playing the system” to get what they want.

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About Jenna Cyprus

Jenna is a freelance writer who loves the outdoors; especially camping while relaxing with her family.