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"It scares me because of the fact that it just takes so long to get to a place where these fathers, including myself, can play a role in their children’s lives," he said. "They need to speed these cases up so if a father is going to be a part of a child’s life, it is decided in the first years of a child’s life."
It’s not a new or unique problem. In the highly publicized "Baby Richard" case, an unwed father succeeded in regaining custody of his son when the boy was 4 years old. More recently, a legal dispute over "Baby Veronica" lasted four years before the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of her adoptive parents; during those years, the girl moved from her adoptive parents’ custody to her biological father’s care and then back again.
Adam Pertman, president of The Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York, said letting these cases "go on and on and on creates situations where no one wins the game."
"If you don’t do the right thing from the start and include everyone whose rights might need to be considered, you travel a road that might end up with no possibility of a good ending," Pertman said. "And that is unfortunate for everyone concerned."
In the Manzanares case, the judge at least did not turn a father away — which is "what happens in many cases," Pertman said.
"What we need to do in law and policy and practice and judicial process is not create situations that are this problematic for everyone concerned," he said.
Both Cheroutes and Hulen agree.
"I don’t think there is a silver bullet, but it might be a start if specialized procedures were adopted by states to deal with cases like this," Cheroutes said.
Utah also might opt to follow the example of Colorado, where a birth mother is required to give a birth father notice of an adoption proceeding if she knows his whereabouts.
"Colorado tries to move pretty quickly and does protect the rights of the father," Hulen said.
"It shouldn’t take four or five years in Utah, Colorado or anywhere else for a paternity or custody decision to be resolved," he added. "Wherever such a case may be filed, one would hope the law would move forward a lot more quickly."
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