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Utah Legislators Try to Stop Adoption “Forum Shopping”

by Norris Law Group on March 26, 2014

3509613_sNew legislation (SB 229) passed on March 13 by the Utah Legislature requires unwed mothers in Utah for less than 90 days to provide more information about the child’s biological father before proceeding with a Utah adoption. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, this requirement would end “forum shopping” as well as “end-runs” around unmarried fathers who live in other states.

Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said that Utah has become a “refuge” for unwed mothers from other states seeking to put their newborns up for adoption. Wilson, an adoptee himself, said in support of the bill, “There is nothing that I care more about than having an adoption process and laws that encourage adoptions, but we do legitimately have a problem. The modification would achieve “the right balance that will fix this loophole and keep courts out of our adoption laws.”

Wilson also referenced two recent cases involving unwed fathers from Pennsylvania and Colorado whose children were put up for adoption in Utah without the fathers’ knowledge. In both cases, the Utah Supreme Court found that these fathers had been improperly prohibited from intervening in the adoptions.

Wilson said the change would affect about 1 percent of the 2,500 adoptions in Utah involving a birth mother brought here to take advantage of Utah’s stringent requirements regarding birth fathers.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross sponsored SB 229, and said of the bill, “My number one goal was to not disturb the apple cart for the thousands of legitimate adoptions…And number two, I think I successfully installed a speed bump for some of these out-of-state adoptions.”

The bill received support from the Utah Adoption Council, the Utah Council for Ethical Adoption Practices and 10 Utah adoption agencies (which said that they already collect much of the information required under SB 229).

Nearly two dozen lawmakers, however, voted against SB229, with many saying that the new law was not needed. Rep. Edward Redd, R-Logan said, “It just seems like to me women take all the risks in these situations and yet we still seem to be really concerned about the right of the semen donor, for lack of a better term.“ (Rep. Redd later publicly apologized for this comment.) Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, opined that  it was “just wrong to suggest that Utah is somehow out of balance or deficient” in the way it treats unmarried fathers’ rights…Can you imagine how shallow the commitment is to that pregnancy that man has, to say that he can just show up at the last minute.” Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, said the proposal was based on the “misconception that unwed fathers have constitutionally protected parental rights. They do not,” and that only a father who is married to the mother or who has filed for paternity has any rights in an adoption proceeding. Nelson also said that he thinks SB 229 puts too much of a burden on unwed mothers.

Attorney Graham Norris and his associates at the Norris Law Group serve the residents of Utah County and throughout Utah in the area of divorce. Contact them today at 801-932-1238 or online for a free consultation.

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