Monday, August 24, 2009

Young Father Fights Long, Hard Battle Against Adoption Agency to Raise His Own Daughter

Babies are often given up for adoption against the father's will or by evasion and deceit, which are often winked at by authorities. Putative Father Registries are often used to circumvent fathers' rights.

Below, Fathers & Families Board Member Robert Franklin, Esq. reports on a particularly egregious case involving a young father. Young fathers are continually vilified for their alleged refusal to take responsibility for their children, but this case provides an excellent example of just how many roadblocks are often thrown up to separate fathers from their children.

Robert writes:

Cody O'dea and Ashley Olea had a brief sexual relationship when they lived in Wyoming. At age 18, she turned up pregnant. Cody immediately told her that he wanted to help raise the child. A few months later, Ashley told Cody that she had miscarried. They split up and he moved to Idaho.

Still more months later, a friend informed Cody that Ashley was then eight months pregnant and making plans to place the child for adoption. She was still in Wyoming, but working with an adoption agency, LDS Family Services, in Montana.

Cody immediately contacted Ashley and reasserted his desire to have custody of the child. He also filed the appropriate form with the Wyoming Putative Father Registry. He also filed with the Montana Putative Father Registry. He wrote a letter to the adoption agency telling them that he would not waive his parental rights.

Cody spoke with two people including a supervisor at LDS Family Services, informing them of his intention to get custody of the child. Eventually, LDS decided to not continue with the adoption process and wrote Cody a letter saying so.

On July 15, 2006, Cody received a strange call from Ashley which, according to him, went as follows:

Ashley: You will listen and you will not speak. First of all I want you to stop harassing me and that includes your mother. I am in Utah. You will not father this child. You will pay child support until the child is in College. You will never see this baby. Do you understand?

Cody: No, I do not understand, does this mean you are planning to keep the child?

Ashley: Do you understand what I’m saying?

Cody: No, I don’t understand, does that mean you are keeping the child and not giving it up for adoption?

Ashley: If you understand what I have told you, that is all I have to say.
Then she hung up. Notice that she mentioned nothing about placing the child for adoption. In fact she strongly suggests the opposite. And the ruse worked. Cody thought that, since he had filed with the registries of Wyoming and Montana, and gotten LDS to back off, that he had successfully blocked the adoption. To him, Ashley's phone call meant that she'd changed her mind and would keep the child.

But that was wrong. Ashley's call was almost certainly prompted by an attorney. Her statement that she was in Utah constituted legal "notice" to him that perhaps an adoption would occur there. Therefore, he then became obligated to file with Utah's registry and begin paternity proceedings. In fact, unknown to him, he had only 20 days to do so.

Despite Cody's repeated efforts to comply with the law and assert his parental rights, a Utah court approved the adoption in 2006. A different agency, the Adoption Center of Choice, provided the adoptive parents. Neither they nor Ashley notified Cody that the adoption had taken place. The Adoption Center of Choice contacted the Wyoming Putative Father Registry and ascertained that Cody had registered there and was asserting his parental rights. Apparently, that made absolutely no difference to the Adoption Center of Choice.

Cody then filed a paternity suit in Utah, but it was too late. His twenty days had passed. The Supreme Court of Utah has just ruled that all his efforts to be a father to his child were meaningless. It was solely his failure to comply with Utah's 20-day period that destroyed any hope he had. He will never see his child; he will never be her father in more than the biological sense.

The United States Supreme Court has called parental rights "far more precious than property rights." But when it comes to a father's rights, those are mostly just words. In the real world of family law, in this case, adoption law, they have next to no meaning.

Let's look at what happened in the Cody O'dea case. His child's mother decided she didn't want the child with whom she was pregnant, so she lied to Cody, telling him that she had miscarried. That Cody discovered her lie, was, for Ashley, an inconvenience, but little more. She shopped for an adoption agency in one state, abandoned that idea and located another in another state. The new agency was willing to overlook the fact that it knew perfectly well that there was a father who wanted custody.

In short, a few well-placed lies, an unscrupulous adoption agency, and an unscrupulous attorney combined with a young father who failed to know the laws of a foreign state, added up to the denial of his parental rights. You remember those; they're the ones that are "far more precious than property rights." But when those rights are placed, not in the father's hands but in the mother's, abrogating them turns out to be simplicity itself.

Robert's piece continues here. Cody's website can be accessed here--it contains many of the case's documents. As for the anti-father bias of adoption agencies, take a look at the second part of paragraph two of this letter from an agency to Cody.

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