Does a father have the same parental rights as a mother? Or does he only have the rights awarded to him by the state of Utah if he meets a lot of paperwork requirements prescribed by Utah law?
The Sutherland Institute, an ultra-conservative think tank, has taken the side opposed to protecting the rights of fathers because the institute’s leadership believes, above all, that a two-parent heterosexual household is the only good home in which to raise children. And if a father’s rights have to be sacrificed, well, that’s a small inconvenience easily taken care of by legislators.
Utah adoption law favors mothers and encourages adoption by heterosexual couples while putting nearly insurmountable obstacles in the way of fathers who want to raise their own children. Unwed mothers, and even some married mothers who want to place a child for adoption without messy interference from the father, move to Utah specifically to take advantage of Utah’s discriminatory law.
Utah adoption law, one of the worst for denying paternal rights, has four steps that biological fathers must take in order to intervene before the birth mother places the child for adoption:
File a paternity petition in court; file a sworn affidavit in court stating he is able and willing to have full custody of the child, detailing child care plans and agreeing to a court order of support and payment of pregnancy and birth-related expenses; file a notice of commencement of a paternity action with the state vital statistics registrar; show proof he offered to pay or did pay the pregnancy and birth-related expenses, unless he was unaware of the pregnancy before the birth,
All the burden of reading, interpreting and abiding by this arcane law sits on the father. If a woman is determined to place her baby for adoption, it’s relatively easy for her to do so in Utah without the father’s consent or even knowledge. In a well-publicized case resolved this year, a married father serving in the military was kept in the dark about his wife’s pregnancy and only found out he had a child after the baby had lived for months in a Utah adoptive home.
The judge in that case awarded the man custody. But it took months, and by the time of the ruling, the little girl had bonded with the adoptive parents.
To avoid such trauma to children, Utah should change the law to recognize that fathers, as well as mothers, have a right to care for their children. The state has no business deciding only one family structure deserves legal recognition, in spite of what the Sutherland Institute says.
Copyright 2013 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.