Utah’s New Law Would Protect Unwed Fathers
Utah has long been a haven for unwed mothers who intend to put their newborns up for adoption. According to Wes Hutchins, the president of the Utah Council for Ethical Adoption Practices, “Utah has become a magnet for birth mothers to flee their home state and come here to give birth without any notice to birth fathers.” While it has joined ranks with 31 other states in implementing a putative father registry, a clear lack of consistency from state to state poses problems.
“I’m in Utah”
At present, Utah requires little in the way of notice to a birth father prior to an adoption procedure begins. In fact, a simple phone call or text message of “I’m in Utah” has been deemed appropriate notice in the past. The true onus appears to be on the father. In a 2011 investigative article, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that most states only require the father to register with the state agency that administers the registry. Missouri, Idaho and Utah also oblige the father to instigate court action to contest adoption proceedings.
This makes for fewer hurdles for an unwed mother intent on making a unilateral decision. And, when an out of state father has to file in person (or have a lawyer do so on his behalf), the economic and geographic obstacles can become impassable. As of now, it is not an illegal evasion of paternal rights. States, such as New York, have organizations that look to prevent such extreme actions and provide not only adoption aid but help in preventing foster care placement.
The National Sphere
Because of these loopholes and variations, the rights of unwed fathers are under consideration in the national arena. Congress is even now punting the creation of a national putative registry back and forth. Alas, no resolution has been found and there are questions posed by opponents of putative registries to consider: do these bureaucratic registries protect paternal rights or serve to create a more seamless adoption process? If keeping children with biological parents is best practice, why not give the father the opportunity to parent?
As this issue has not yet been successfully tackled on a national level, Sen. Luz Robles of Salt Lake City is instead advocating the creation of a confidential, electronic registry in Utah. It would enable adoption agencies, attorneys, unwed fathers, and possibly other states to search and make paternity filings. In essence, Senator Robles aims to streamline the Utah system to make it easier for unwed fathers to file, agencies to make inquiries, and promote ethical adoption practices.
At the heart of the matter, lawmakers across the board are looking to not only protect a father’s rights, but to the total well-being of the child. With transparency, communication and community involvement and resources, legal battles and the heartbreak of removing children from biological parents need not be so persistent.