* * *
While we wait and watch to see what happens to Benjamin Wyrembek's son, there is another case of father's rights being denied, this one in Utah, my least favorite state: A young father in Virginia, John Wyatt, 22, was given the round-around by the Sentara Potomac Hospital in Virginia, but eventually learned two days later that the mother, college student Emily Colleen Fahland, managed somehow to relinquish in Utah.
Uh, oh....Utah and them Mormons like to get those babies away from single mothers...
and once a baby is relinquished in that state--no matter how soon after birth--it is very difficult to pry that child away from the adopters, no matter what.
Although the father immediately sued for custody, a Utah judge awarded the adoptive parents (who are keeping their name out of the media) temporary custody. Wyatt sought relief from the Utah Court of Appeals; in the meantime, a Virginia judge granted Wyatt full custody rights last December, ordering baby "Emma" to be returned to Virginia, where her legal and biological father could claim her. But the Virginia attorney general's office said it lacked the authority to retrieve Emma from Utah. What? This means that if you can get a baby across state lines, you simply defer to the other state?
As a result, Wyatt is still fighting to get Utah to recognize his parental rights. In Utah, a birth mother's consent is irrevocable once she signs the paperwork, no matter if she is still groggy from giving birth. In Utah, most of the state offices and judgeships are held by Mormons and the church is overwhelmingly biased against unmarried couples or single mothers having and raising children.** (For writing a less-than-happy perspective about relinquishing a child, I was kicked off a blog run by a Mormon.)
Wyatt and Fahland are dating once again, and hope to raise their baby together. Fahland's attorney, Sharon Fast Gustafson, says her client--the mother of the baby called Emma--gradually came to regret her decision to relinquish her child. Wyatt says: "It's hard to sleep knowing your child is out there and you've never seen her. I'm never going to stop, though." Emma is now 19 months old. This is another nightmare scenario, like that of Benjamin Wyembrek and his son, "Grayson," that involves denying a father the right to raise his own child, and a culture greedy to get babies from mothers as soon as possible after birth with no time for careful deliberation after giving birth.
Joan Hollinger, a University of California at Berkeley professor and a leading authority on adoption law, in an interview with the Washington Post, called Utah's decisions in the Baby Emma case "outrageous" because Wyatt filed for custody in Virginia just eight days after Emma's birth. Utah laws and court decisions, she said, "make it virtually impossible for an out-of-state father to prevent the adoption of an out-of-wedlock child when the mother is determined to go forward." Utah, noted the Post, is "culturally conservative, and lawyers say the powerful Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with its emphasis on family values, has strongly encouraged adoption-friendly laws." Amen.
The kind of legislation that Jane Edwards is working on--which would give mothers more time, and more protections, before they irrevocably sign away their babies--would change this scenario, and we would not have adopters claiming they can not give back the child to his or her rightful parents, simply because they already have the child.*
* Yes we can reform state adoption laws!
** Putting the birth family first in adoption
Jane wrote about the Wyatt case in June, Fathers Day 2010: Unmarried Fathers Who Fight for their Rights to be a Dad
For the story in the Washington Post, see: Whatever Happened To ... the battle over Baby Emma: