The Utah Supreme Court on Friday declined to stay a trial court judge’s order giving a married father custody of a child who was placed for adoption at birth without the father’s consent or knowledge. The court also set an expedited hearing for the appeal.
The high court last Tuesday had put a temporary hold on 4th District Judge Darold McDade’s decision giving Terry Achane custody of his 2-year-old daughter, Teleah. The toddler has lived with Jared and Kristi Frei, the couple who planned to adopt her, since birth.
Achane, an Army drill sergeant stationed at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, was in Dallas waiting to board a plane bound for Utah when he got word of the temporary hold. A hearing set for Wednesday in Provo’s 4th District Court, during which Achane was to get custody of his daughter, was canceled, and Achane returned to Fort Jackson.
But in its order Friday, the Utah Supreme Court denied the request for a stay of that transfer while it hears the Freis’ appeal of McDade’s ruling. It set an expedited schedule for briefs to be filed in the case and will hear oral arguments between March 26-28. Meanwhile, the Utah Supreme Court said McDade may make "any appropriate directives to ensure that the best interests of the child are preserved" until it makes a decision.
"In plain English: Teleah is going home to her father," said attorney Scott Wiser, who with his father, Mark, represents Achane, in a post on Facebook.
"We’re extremely pleased with the Supreme Court ruling, and we appreciate the additional time they took to make sure they got all the additional information to decide this important case," Mark Wiser said. "Sergeant Achane is extremely elated and is anxiously awaiting being able to be united with his daughter and be able to take her to South Carolina to meet the rest of her family."
The Wisers said they are trying to arrange a hearing before McDade as soon as possible, most likely within the next 10 days. At that hearing they expect Achane to receive custody of Teleah and to work out reasonable visitation for the Freis to visit her in South Carolina as part of a transition plan.
Lance Rich, the attorney representing the Freis, declined to comment on Friday.
Achane, 31, and Tira Bland, his now ex-wife, were living in Texas when she conceived Teleah; the baby was due in mid-March 2011. Achane received a job transfer to Fort Jackson and left Texas in mid-January to report for duty. He planned to return to Texas for the baby’s birth and then expected his family to join him in South Carolina.
But 10 days after Achane left Texas, Bland decided to place the baby for adoption. She contacted the Adoption Center of Choice in Utah and told the agency her husband had abandoned her and had no interest in the child. She gave birth in Utah on March 1, 2011. Two days later, Bland relinquished her parental rights, and the baby was placed with the Freis.
Achane did not learn what had become of his daughter until June 2011. He immediately contacted the agency and demanded the return of his daughter, but both the agency and the Freis refused and attempted to proceed with an adoption.
In November, McDade ruled that Achane’s parental rights had been unlawfully circumvented by Bland, the adoption agency and the Freis, and he dismissed the couple’s adoption petition. He set 60 days for the Freis to transfer custody of Teleah to her father.
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