Utah courts » Judge orders adoptive parents to return child to father, who is ready for new life with daughter.
By Brooke Adams, Salt Lake Tribune, Dec 03 2012 (Updated 3 hours ago)
A 4th District Court judge says he is "astonished and deeply troubled" by a Utah adoption agency’s deliberate move to circumvent the rights of a married man whose daughter was adopted at birth without his knowledge.The Provo judge, while noting the birth mother had deceived her husband, the adoption agency and the prospective parents, has given the adoptive couple 60 days to give the child back.
A married father’s rights
While unmarried biological fathers must act to preserve their parental rights and have a limited time to do so, married fathers are presumed to have a constitutional, fundamental liberty interest in their children.
A married father “has the exact same parental rights as the mother from the get-go,” said Salt Lake attorney Scott Wiser, who with his father represents Terry Achane. “It is the same reason why any other married parent would not have to worry about filing a paternity petition or jumping through a series of legal hoops to get their kids back if a third-party like a neighbor or day-care provider decided not to return their kids.”
Unless his parental rights have been terminated for cause, the father’s consent to an adoption is required.
In his ruling in the Achane case, 4th District Judge Darold McDade called the situation painful and heartbreaking while noting previous Utah Supreme Court rulings that found that prospective adoptive parents are “legal strangers” who have no rights other than to temporarily care for the child until custody can be returned to a natural parent and that any bonding that may have occurred while they had custody is “legally irrelevant.”
Salt Lake City attorneys Mark and Scott Wiser, the father/son team that represented Achane, used even stronger language for what occurred.
"This is a case of human trafficking," said Mark Wiser. "Children are being bought and sold. It is one thing what [adoption agencies] have been doing with unmarried biological fathers. It is in a new area when they are trying to take a child away from a married father who wants to have his child."
Jared and Kristi Frei, the adoptive parents, declined to comment, as did Kasey Wright, their former attorney, and Larry Jenkins, newly hired to represent the couple. James Webb, executive director of the Adoption Center of Choice, based in American Fork, did not return a call from The Salt Lake Tribune. The Tribune attempted to reach Tira Bland, the birth mother who is now divorced from Achane, but was unsuccessful.
On a blog about the case, where the Freis have raised more than $20,000 to help with legal bills, they vow to appeal McDade’s decision, describing the arrival of Achane’s daughter in their lives "a righteous desire blessed to fruition by God."
"We have not lost our conviction that we are in the right!!!!!!" Kristi Frei wrote after McDade’s Nov. 20 ruling dismissed their adoption petition. "We have only ever wanted to do right by Leah, and have always felt we have been acting in her best interest to keep her with our family and raise her as our own. Our hearts have demanded it — there has never been any question to us that she is OURS!!!"
Achane, 31, still finds the position he is in hard to believe and just wants the baby girl he has met just twice and calls Teleah, the name he picked out before her birth, back.
"I am not a very religious person," he said in an interview Friday, "but ‘Thou shalt not steal.’ If they prolong it, that is more time away from my daughter. There are precious moments I can’t get back. ... It has been a year and a half now. There is no court order saying they have the right to my child. I just won the case. I want to get my daughter and raise my daughter."
Texas marriage •
Achane and Bland, both then residents of Texas, married in February 2009 and learned around late June 2010 that Bland was expecting their first child. Achane, who is in the U.S. Army, accompanied his wife to prenatal visits and was there when an ultrasound revealed they were having a girl. They shared a joint bank account and Achane carried Bland and her daughter from a previous relationship on his military health insurance, which he also expected would cover the new baby.