Bill to help birth father’s rights

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DENVER -- Feeling current adoption laws and procedures are casting the state of Utah in a 'negative light', legislators are not waiting for the Utah courts to change laws relating to birth-father's rights.

The new measure was sought due to dozens of adoption cases that have gained national attention, including one involving a Colorado man--Rob Manzanares--who has been fighting with Utah courts for more than four years to gain custody of his daughter Kaia.

"The birth mother in essence kidnapped our daughter, fled to Utah without telling me, and had the child a month early," said Manzanares. "She lied to me and the courts there, knowing that I had signed up in Colorado with the courts and was stepping up to the plate for our child."

While the adoption was upheld by Utah courts, the Supreme Court there reversed a lower court ruling which declared he had no rights to his daughter. The January ruling sent the case back to the District courts.

"The naysayers want to downplay the significance of the case, but it really is groundbreaking in Utah, where adoptions usually go in favor of the birth mother," said adoption attorney, Wes Hutchins. "I believe the ruling can help fathers in similar cases and change the law. Now, an unwed father cannot claim fraud as a defense to protect his rights."

"It really is state sponsored fraud and state sponsored kidnapping to the extent that we are allowing fathers to lose their rights under these circumstances," said Hutchins.

Under Utah law, an unwed father must file with the state registry and initiate a paternity action in court. They have 20 days to file, once they discover a child was born and placed for adoption, otherwise they lose their rights, critics say fathers who live out of state often have no idea what the law requires.

So, lawmakers who feel as if fathers haven't been given a fair chance decided to address the Supreme Court's ruling which dealt with the lack of notice the way the old law read. Which is why the new bill encourages women to be more truthful and gives fathers notice of child birth.

Sen. Todd Weiler said, "I think it's good public policy to not make adoptions too difficult."

But all agree, changes will be slow as the courts and legislature work to balance the rights of adoptive families, birth parents--married or not--and the child. And while some say mothers lose rights under the new law giving fathers more time to register, some say it's time the swing moves back toward the middle, giving fathers some rights they have been missing.