Utah high court weighs appeal in Pennsylvania man's adoption case
An attorney for a Pennsylvania man told the Utah Supreme Court on Tuesday that the state should not allow "forum shopping" by birth mothers who simply are trying to avoid complying with adoption law in their home states.
Attorney Wes Hutchins asked the court to find his client, Jacob David Brooks of Erie, Pa., was improperly kept from intervening in his son's adoption two years ago because Utah law, unlike Pennsylvania's law, does not require notice in cases where a child is conceived as a result of any level of sexual offense.
Brooks was 18 when he began a sexual relationship with a girl who told him she was 16. Brooks said he broke off the relationship when he learned the girl was actually 14. A month later, the girl told Brooks she was pregnant.
He accompanied her to an early doctor's visit, where he heard his son's heartbeat. Around that time, the girl told Brooks she wanted to pursue an adoption and gave him a packet of information. Brooks, now 21, refused to sign the paperwork which he did not realize was from a Utah agency and told her he wanted to raise the child.
At that point, the girl and her family cut off contact and filed statutory sexual assault and corruption of a minor charges against Brooks. The charges were eventually reduced to indecent exposure after it was determined the pair's sexual contact was consensual, Hutchins told the court.
Brooks said after the hearing that under Pennsylvania law, he could not assert paternity rights until the child was born; in addition, a birth mother is required to give a biological father notice when she pursues an adoption.
Instead, Brooks learned via a Facebook posting that the girl had given birth early to a boy on Jan. 10, 2012, in Utah. He filed a paternity petition in Utah's 4th District Court the next day, complying with state law, after calling every adoption agency in Utah in an unsuccessful effort to find his son.
The adoptive parents, who live in Tennessee and were working with the now defunct Adoption Center of Choice, filed an adoption petition on Jan. 13, 2012. They provided notice of the proceeding to Brooks, but argued that he had no right to intervene under Utah law because of the sexual offense.
In July 2012, a 4th District Court judge issued a ruling in favor of the adoptive parents. Brooks appealed.
Attorney Larry Jenkins, appearing for the adoption agency, said the question before the court was really whether a man who has impregnated a woman as in this case has any rights. And under either state's law, Jenkins said, the answer is that he has no rights to the child at all.
Justice Christine Durham pressed how that might work in the case of a pregnancy that results from marital rape.
In Pennsylvania, the law is less broad than Utah's statute and specifically says a father's consent to adoption is not required when a pregnancy results from rape which was not the issue in Brooks' case, Hutchins said.
The justices pressed Hutchins heavily about how to determine which states' laws should take precedence and at what point of a pregnancy.
"People flee home states all the time to take advantage of more favorable laws elsewhere," said Justice Thomas Lee.
Hutchins argued laws in the home state should take precedence, pointing out that neither Brooks, nor his one-time girlfriend or the adoptive parents had any connection to Utah; only the baby's birth and subsequent adoption here made Utah the eventual focal point for the dispute.
Brooks attended Tuesday's hearing with his stepfather, Chris Konieczny.
Konieczny said the situation has been "extremely hard" on the entire family, financially and emotionally.
"Here we thought we were going to have a baby real soon, then we find out the baby's in Utah without his consent," Konieczny said. "It's mind blowing."
Brooks said he planned to keep fighting for his son no matter what.
"There is still always a chance out there," Brooks said. "There's no giving up hope. I want my son and I'm not going to stop until I get him back."
Lawmakers considering changes to adoption statute
Several bills before the Utah Legislature would amend the state's adoption statute to address problems raised in several disputed cases.
One bill would allow Utah to join with other states to share putative father registry information. Another would give unwed fathers more time to respond after first learning an adoption is underway in Utah; it also would require birth mothers to reside in Utah for at least 90 days prior to placing a child for adoption or give biological fathers notice of an adoption. Another bill would require notice be provided except in cases where a mother has experienced or fears abuse.