Utah adoption matter highlights the differences among state laws

This legislative session, there are a number of bills before the Utah Legislature, which could potentially amend the state's adoption statute to address issues raised in several different types of matters.

For example, one bill would provide an unwed father more time to respond after he is given notice that an adoption concerning his child is pending in the state. In general, most of the proposed laws get to the issue of notice. When is notice required in a particular adoption case? A pending matter in the Utah Supreme Court considers this issue in a unique context.

Man attempts to prevent adoption of his child

Specifically, a man from another state, where notice of an adoption is required in most cases, is asking a Utah court to intervene in his son's adoption because the man was not given notice of the pending matter. Utah law does not require notice to fathers in some cases, such as one where a child is conceived as a result of a sexual offense at any level.

It all began when the 18-year-old petitioner had a sexual relationship in Pennsylvania with a girl who claimed that she was 16. The man ended the relationship when he learned the girl was, in fact, 14. A month later, the woman told the petitioner that she was expecting a child.

However, the girl decided to pursue an adoption and gave the petitioner a packet of information on the issue. Assuming the adoption information pertained to Pennsylvania's law, at the age of 21, the father refused to sign the paperwork. However, the adoption materials were actually from a Utah agency.

In response, the girl cut off contact with the petitioner and filed corruption of a minor and statutory assault charges against the man in Pennsylvania. Because the relationship was ultimately found to be consensual, the charges were reduced to indecent exposure.

In Pennsylvania, notice of adoption is required to the biological father - even when the father has been found guilty of a low-level sexual offense. This is because a father in such circumstances maintains rights to his child; yet, this is untrue in Utah. In Utah, a sex offender of any level does not have parental rights.

Ultimately, the petitioner discovered that the girl moved to Utah and gave birth to the child in early 2012. At this time, she had already initiated an adoption matter without providing notice. As soon as the father uncovered this information, he filed a paternity action in Utah's 4th District Court.

At that time, the adoptive parents provided notice of the proceeding to the petitioner; yet, they asserted that the father had no right to intervene under Utah law as a result of the indecent exposure offense. A judge agreed in favor of the adoptive parents, and the petitioner has now appealed.

It may be a while before the court weighs in on the matter. However, this case is a prime example of the importance of jurisdictional differences among family law mandates. Every state follows unique laws, and the slightest issue can turn on very technical variances. If you are dealing with a family law matter, it is helpful to have legal assistance. It is important to be aware of your state's regulations. Oversight could cost someone his or her family law rights.