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Family attorneys in Salt Lake City discuss Fathers v. Utah: a class action suit for paternal rights

February 3, 2014

While much of the legal discussion in Utah is currently about marriage (and divorce) in same-sex partnerships, another branch of the family is seeing a legal battle in the state. Biological fathers of children placed for adoption in Utah without their consent are suing the state in federal court, claiming their constitutional rights have been violated, as the Chicago Tribune reports here. Family attorneys in Salt Lake City cite the complex, tangled network of adoption statutes in Utah as a source of confusion, and the lawsuit itself describes the current adoption system as a “confusing labyrinth of virtually incomprehensible legal mandates and impossible deadlines.”

Twelve men behind the suit filed with the U.S. district court in Salt Lake are arguing that the adoption standards have resulted in “unconstitutional remove of children from their biological families, essentially resulting in their kidnapping and highly unethical displacement into adoptive homes without the knowledge and consent of their biological fathers.” While family attorneys in Salt Lake City may find some of the lawsuits language incendiary, the laws themselves are somewhat problematic. Under Utah’s law, a child aged six months or less can be adopted without the legal consent of an unmarried biological father unless the man has already initiated a petition to establish paternity. What’s more, Utah’s adoption statute includes “fraud immunity laws” which allow unwed mothers the ability to put their newborns up for adoption without paternal consent and few, if any, questions asked. One of the family attorneys in Salt Lake City behind the suit estimates that more than 300 men have been affected by this law, and a class-action certification for the suit may be in the works.

Current Utah adoption laws have enabled biological mothers and adoption agencies to exploit the ease with which a new mother can give a newborn for adoption, the suit contend, while simultaneously glossing over the required consideration of the “rights and interests of all parties.” All parties include the biological fathers, the lawsuit adds. Labelling the effects of the law as “legalized fraud and kidnapping,” the implications of the lawsuit’s language is clear to family attorneys in Salt Lake City: this is criminal. Whether a judge will see it that way is another question.

Of the twelve biological children referenced in the lawsuit, six boys and six girls, all were born in Utah between June 2006 and November 2012. None of the men filling suit were married to the mothers of their biological children. Each tried to stop his child from being adopted with varying levels of success. Two were able to prove paternity in time to avoid the adoption, and one had his child’s adoption overturned by the Utah Supreme Court. Each wants the law to change, to avoid violation of future fathers’ rights to due process and equal protection. Whether Utah will continue to be a “stop and drop” state, or whether it will see improved paternal rights in the future remains to be seen.

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