Law Strikes Down Utah Adoption Act, 'Responsible' Fathers Can Now Contest for Custody

Single mothers will no longer be able to travel to Utah to put kids up for adoption without first notifying their children's fathers now that state legislators have changed a law that critics said cleared a path for kidnapping and fraud.

The measure's sponsor says the revision will allow responsible fathers to challenge adoptions, giving them a chance to remain in their children's lives.

"We're trying to throw a speed bump into that process," Republican state Sen. Todd Weiler, who sponsored the proposal, said Wednesday.

"This will allow judges to know if a father has reached out and grabbed his rights," he said.

The law aims to cut down on cases such as last year's battle involving a drill sergeant from North Carolina who gained custody of his infant daughter after he said his ex-wife traveled to Utah, gave birth and placed the newborn up for adoption without his knowledge.

"It's kind of a reaction to this perception that we've become a magnet state for fraudulent adoptions," Weiler said.

Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, signed the measure Tuesday, weeks after a Utah Supreme Court ruling sided with a Pennsylvania father challenging the Utah Adoption Act as unconstitutional after saying his ex-girlfriend turned their baby over to an adoption agency without telling him.

As that case heads back to a lower court, a separate lawsuit involving that man and 11 other fathers fighting previous law is pending in federal court.

The new legislation takes effect next month and would render moot portions of the lawsuits that seek to overturn the state's adoption regulations. The courts could still, however, award financial damages to the affected fathers, who aren't seeking custody in that case.

Wes Hutchins, the attorney representing the dozen fathers, has been a vocal critic of Utah's adoption laws. He calls the measure "a step in the right direction," but says it would be difficult to enforce.

The new law only applies to unwed mothers, because married women must already tell the fathers if they plan to place up a child for adoption. It would also require the mothers to live in Utah for at least 90 days or file in court information about the birth father in cases involving babies younger than 6 months old.

The bill doesn't impose any penalties on women who don't volunteer the information. Rather, it requires a judge to ask the pertinent questions.

"Treating the men responsibly and including them in the process is simply an ethical practice," said Adam Pertman, president of the Donaldson Adoption Institute. "What if he's 28-years-old, has a good job and wants to be a dad?"

The bill would not allow a non-custodial father to unilaterally stop an adoption, but it would allow him to challenge it in court for a judge to decide. It also could allow a father to strike a deal with an adoptive family to remain in a child's life in some capacity.

In deciding whether a father would have notification rights, however, courts must take into consideration any history of domestic violence between the parents.

This marks the second year lawmakers have moved to walk back the adoption act. A 2013 law requires adoption agencies to prohibit employees from misinforming adoptive parents about children.

The law takes effect May 13.

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