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Utah may take lead in protection of fathers' rights in adoption cases

Published February 13, 2014 8:17 am

Legislature • Bill would create compact that lets states share paternity claim filings.
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Utah may make it easier for unwed fathers to protect their rights no matter where they live by joining with other states to share confidential paternity filings.

The Senate Health and Human Services Standing Committee gave a nod to SB63, which would create an interstate compact to share putative father registry information. Adoption agencies and attorneys are supposed to search such registries to locate unwed fathers who want to be notified of adoption proceedings.

Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake, is sponsoring the proposed legislation, which would not take effect until May 2015 to allow time for other states to join the proposed compact. Robles also plans to introduce a joint resolution urging states to join the compact.

Robles said lawmakers in Arizona and Nevada are currently proposing similar measures and she has also discussed the idea with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"We do have a putative father registry in our state and it's working well," Robles told the committee. But a gap exists for unwed fathers who take action to protect their rights in their home states but are then shut out by birth mothers who travel to Utah or other states without their knowledge to give birth and place a child for adoption.

Utah is among 32 states with some form of a putative father registry that is maintained by a state agency or court, according to information given to an interim committee. But there is no consistency as far as what is required or when the father must act.

Efforts to create a national putative father registry have so far been unsuccessful. Both the Utah Adoption Council and Utah Council for Ethical Adoption Practices favor such a national database.

"I don't know why Congress hasn't been able to take care of this," Robles said.

She said a compact that allows states to share paternity claim filings would ensure unwed fathers don't have to go from state-to-state to protect their rights and would potentially spare birth mothers and prospective adoptive parents expensive, and sometimes heartbreaking, legal challenges.

Dan Deuel of the National Parents Organization of Utah, spoke in favor of the proposed bill, which he said would help curb the "forum shopping" by birth mothers that has earned Utah notoriety.

"Utah has become nationally known for being a state that makes it very difficult for those fathers who are making a true, honest, good-faith effort to raise and rear their child," Deuel said, but are "unjustly and unfairly shut out of their child's lives."

In Utah, unwed fathers must assert paternity by filing with the state registry and initiating a court paternity action before the birth mother consents to an adoption and relinquishes her rights, which cannot occur until 24 hours after she gives birth. For birth fathers who learn only after the event that the child was born in and placed for adoption in Utah, the law provides an additional 20 days to act.

brooke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Brooke4Trib