Monday, September 13, 2010

On John Wyatt - Utah Birth Father Case

Julie at recently posted her thoughts about an adoption case heard in Utah Supreme Court. Julie's post about the case involving birth father John Wyatt generated a lot of discussion (that's an understatement), and I was one commenter among many. This case strikes me deeply, so I'm re-posting Julie's post and my response here.

Julie is an adoptive mother, and I'm grateful to her for taking the time to explore this case on her blog. Honest, heartfelt discussion and debate are prerequisites for any adoption reform, and I appreciate Julie's passion and compassion. The issues raised by this case transcend John Wyatt, his daughter, and her adoptive parents, and I hope you will share your thoughts.

Julie's post:
The case involving John Wyatt (a brth father)
If you live in Utah, you’ve probably heard this news story about an adoption contested by the birth father. I get really angry every time I see this birth father, John Wyatt, speak, or see his story in written form. Really angry.

Here’s the thing: Utah has really strict laws about rights of birth fathers, and their rights are pretty minimal here. Here’s a basic run down for those not involved in adoption:

Utah law says that any man in the country who has sex with a woman anywhere in the United States has the responsibility to follow up with that woman and determine if a pregnancy resulted from their little rendezvous. If the man does not do that, he automatically has no rights to the child after birth. If the man does find out that he fathered a child, it is then his responsibility to show interest in that child before it is born. Some ways he can do that are by financially supporting the mother (rent, groceries, medical bills, etc.), driving her to doctors appointments, and so on. If a man knows he impregnated a woman and shows no interest in the baby before it is born, Utah law gives him absolutely no rights to the baby after it is born and the mother signs paperwork terminating her own rights (which can be done as early as 24 hours after birth if she is not on narcotics). If a man knows he impregnated a woman, supported her during her pregnancy and wants to retain rights to the child after birth, he MUST file certain papers in court in a very specific manner of time.

The case I’m talking about here is all wavering on that birth father saying he submitted papers to the court in time, and the adoptive family attorney proving that he did not have the papers filed until something like 2 days after the deadline.

I do see how in very few percentage of cases, this law might be a bit difficult for birth fathers. But I’m talking 0.01% of all cases might have a birthfather with issues with Utah law, from everything we’ve seen and researched. From all the family situations and birth family situations I’ve seen over the past few years, the laws in Utah work. They have been a lifesaver to countless birthmothers, and I sure appreciate them as an adoptive mom.

Here’s a very tricky thing about adoption law: each state has their own adoption laws, and they are incredibly different. When we were pursuing our failed adoption in 2005 we lived in CA and the babies were born in PA. We could have chosen to use CA or PA law, and because the laws in PA were difficult to work with for our situation, we chose to use CA law. When Joshua was born in Utah we still lived in California, but because Utah adoption law kicks the pants off of any other state in the country, we chose to use Utah law. Generally speaking, the adoptive family can choose to use the laws of either the state they reside in, or the state the baby is born in. There are times when an adoptive family does not get to choose, but I believe this is pretty rare.

The problem with this current case: Virginia – where the baby was born -has awarded custody to the birth father, but the adoption of the baby was by a family who are Utah residents and worked under Utah law, who has given custody to the adoptive family.

Huge problem.

Nathan thinks there is no where for this case to go but the US Supreme Court, and I’m starting to agree with him; although I’m hoping and praying the birth father’s family runs out of money before they can go that far.

Why does seeing this birth father make me angry?

I can’t understand what it would be like to lose a baby when you think you have full legal rights to that baby. I would be tempted to fight and scream and kick for my baby, too.

BUT at what point do you just STOP fighting and admit that even if you were wronged (which I do not believe he was, but play along – what IF he was wronged) – this is a human. This is an 18 month old human being who has a FAMILY. A sweet little girl, who might be ripped out of the arms of the only family she has EVER known (and by that time it happens (please, don’t let it happen) will she be 2? 3? 5 years old?) and given to strangers when she already has a safe and loving home. Can you start to imagine the trauma? This isn’t an orphan, a kid in foster care, an abused or neglected child. This is a girl – a daughter – who has a loving mom and dad and safe home.

This girl is not a lost dog who was taken in and loved by a new family until hey! her first owner was found and now we can reunite them! NO. She is not a lump of goods, trade-able property.

This is a HUMAN. A delicate, innocent baby girl and if she is removed from the only home she has ever known I can not imagine how it will impact her life.

An upstanding birth father, who actually cared about his daughter would never want her to go through that. In my opinion, his is the highest form of selfishness, bordering on evil. He is treating this little girl like property. A lost dog. John Wyatt is showing the world he cares not about his daughter, but himself. A real parent places the BEST INTERESTS of the child above theirs at all times. He is showing he cares about himself, not about what would be best for his birth daughter.

What do I wish he would do? What do I hope I would be strong enough to do if I were in his shoes? John Wyatt needs to say “I still think I was wronged, but instead of ruining the life of my daughter forever, I will fight and work tirelessly forever to change the laws of each state, and the way that states coordinate interstate adoptions, so this never happens to another birth father again.”

Anything less than that will show him to be only cruel, evil, and selfish.

My response:
This story pushes all kinds of buttons, and like Christine, I’m challenged to put my thoughts into words that will not offend. (Deep breath) I am an adoptive mother. I could never live with myself knowing that either of my children’s first fathers was in this situation, especially over a paperwork deadline. I don’t know this guy from Adam, but I do know this: it’s not as easy as “If he really loved his daughter he would let her go and spare her this mess.” Yes, on paper it may seem clear that it is far better to leave her with her adoptive family… bonding, etc. But this is his child. This is his life. She is of his BODY!

Rational or irrational, I would fight to the death for my children, and I think he truly believes that she should be with him. Why should he be denied that right? Because he missed a deadline? For crying out loud, it’s not a term paper. This is a child he CREATED!

I may be slipping into deletion territory here, but this brings up a lot of emotions. I’m disappointed with the way people use child development to justify separating child and first family. (Not just here; the argument is used all over the place.) For example, many people say that a child this age has already bonded with her adoptive family, and separation at this point would be traumatic, etc. Yes, I’m sure it would. Not life-threatening, though. Not insurmountable or irreparable. No. Children this age lose parents to death, divorce, work-a-holism, addiction, and incarceration, and with the right support, the kids grow up emotionally and psychologically healthy. To say that returning the child to her father would ruin her for life is overly dramatic. It would be sad and difficult and confusing for a while, but it’s doubtful that she would suffer lifelong repercussions from it.

As I said, I would fight to the death to protect my children, and I REALLY sympathize with the adoptive parents in this case. But that doesn’t make the first father less important. He is not less than they; his motivation and rights and feelings are no less important or relevant than theirs; he should not be dismissed simply because he makes other people uncomfortable or uneasy or self-conscious. This isn’t merely a transaction for him. This is a horrific personal nightmare. It’s easy for us to devour the headlines with breakfast. He is living this.

My last thought is that I really, truly understand the adoptive parent position. I’ve had my breath knocked out of me by disappointment, “failed matches”, etc. I know the agony of wanting to parent, of feeling sure that you are meant to be a mom, the all-consuming ache of infertility… but dang! No one owes you their child. No state should make it easier for people to adopt a child than for the first parents to parent. That’s morally wrong, and it makes me sick to hear that some adoptive families seek finalization in Utah because it’s faster/easier/safer. It’s an uncivilized concept.

Thanks for letting me chime in.

What do you think?

Click here to purchase Sally's , What I Want My Adopted Child to Know: An Adoptive Parent's Perspective, in softcover, hardcover, or e-book formats.

Sally Bacchetta
The Adoptive Parent
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Kelley said...

I think this man should fight tooth and nail for his child. He was duped. The agency exported the mother to Utah to get around him protesting the adoption.
For a state that is supposedly family friendly, they sure don't seem to care for fathers.
What is to stop them from doing that to another man?
This case is all kinds of wrong.
And as a mother of boys, it sets a precedent I do not agree with. In Utah, men not only have no rights but the entire state is a get out of jail free card for agencies, even those in other states.
I wish that adoptive mother you quoted could look beyond her own experience to see the injustice of the situation. It's sad that she wants this man to lie down and let his child go into the ether.
I wonder if she would do that with one of her own biological children if she had any.
I doubt it.

birthmothertalks said...

I don't know the full story. However, I think adoptive parents being able to choose which state laws to use is wrong. Especially when it's used to secure an adoption. It seems like which state will allow me to pull a fast one on someone the fastest.
I would hope a case like this wouldn't be drawn out for years. But I think the man should fight. I know that it doesn't represent how I felt about my daughter's birthfather coming in and sueing from custody. My thinking from a teen wasn't the best.

LeMira said...

I have major problems with this entire case. I struggle with both sides of this story, very much. I'm not sure how much I believe the birth father's sincerity when I see him on the news; and I don't understand the adoptive parents' line of thinking either - especially since this case has been going on for nearly two years. I'm utterly confused by it, and I don't dare touch it with a 50-foot pole on my blog because it's so controversial, and I just don't know where I stand on this particular case. I don't have enough details to judge in this instance. Either way I do think the only person who really loses in this case is the child.

I do believe, however, is that while there might have been a really good reason for birth father registries in the beginning, I have a difficult time with the way they are used and abused. I live in Utah, and I know the law. However, in my personal opinion, the most moral path an adoptive parent should take is complete full disclosure. We should do everything in our power to inform a birth father about the existence of his child; we should do right by all parties involved.

My husband and I hate that a registry exists as an excuse for a mother and adoptive parents to hide behind and lie to the father. I can understand the need for one in certain cases, but it should be used ONLY for those certain cases.

birthmothertalks said...

I have to disagree that the only person who loses in this case is the child. The loss is all around.

Duchess said...

Oh, it is so relieving to hear another adoptive parent writing the same things that I feel. I have not had the time or energy to write about this case, or another close to my heart that is similar, but I couldn't agree with you more.

We went through a very painful failed adoption because the birth father was not in favor of it. We could have easily manipulated the laws and the birth father's lack of financial resources in order to push the adoption through, however, how could we morally do that?
In my opinion, an adoption is not moral unless both birth parents agree to it, or at very least, the birth father is well informed and chooses not to act to stop the adoption before it is finalized.

As adoptive parents we like to talk about how important and valuable it is to have a father in a child's life. It is often one of our main arguments for adoption. How can we say how important a father is and at the same time disregard birth fathers as "sperm donors."

Our biological children do not see their fathers as less important than their mothers simply because they were not the ones to carry them, and our adopted children will not ignore the man who gave them half of their DNA, the man whose hair and eyes and skin they will see when they look in the mirror.

Adoptive parents who say that adoption is in the best interest of a child if the birth mother wants it, regardless of what the birth father wants, are fooling themselves. What they are really saying is that adoption is what is best for THEM if it is what the birth mother wants. Your adopted children WILL ask about their biological fathers and they WILL have strong feelings about the circumstances surrounding their birth. A-parents, do you want to explain to your teen child that even though their biological father WANTED to parent him, you didn't feel like it was in his best interest. You are asking for all sorts of potential problems.

Your children, especially your boys, will internalize what you tell them (and what you don't) about their birth fathers. They will hear you speak of the negative characteristics you saw in their birth fathers and they will see those traits in themselves.

I too would fight with all my energy and will for my child. If, as a married couple your new born child was taken from you and at 18 months you learned where he or she was, would you say, "Well, she's never known another family, and they seem like nice enough people, I guess it is in her best interest to stay with them. Too bad for us."? I highly doubt it, so why would you expect the same from the man or any other father, married or not.

Patti said...

Holy COW. Some of the things Julie said, esp in the comments, made me gasp out loud.

"As far as the adoptive family just giving the baby to the birth father when it’s several days old because the birth father wants it…I’ve known too many adoptive families who have fought birth fathers (and all won) to know that adoptive families are NOT wrong to keep babies just because the baby daddy wants the baby. "

Um, hello? So everyone else gets to decide if and when birth dad (you know, "baby daddy") gets to be a father? That is so outrageous, I don't even know what to say.

I almost wish I hadn't gone to read that whole discussion. It made me shudder. Thanks for standing up for birthparents, Sally.

Meg and Ken said...

"This is an 18 month old human being who has a FAMILY. A sweet little girl, who might be ripped out of the arms of the only family she has EVER known (and by that time it happens (please, don’t let it happen) will she be 2? 3? 5 years old?) and given to strangers when she already has a safe and loving home"

This wouldn't happen "IF" they had given the baby to her dad when she was days old. Sometimes we need to do what's morally right not just what the law sates.

Sandy said...

I have pondered this question many times from my biased pov as an adoptee. And no matter how much I could not imagine my parents having any part of this type of injustice - if I found out that they matter how hard I fought against the would change my feelings about my parents in an unspeakable way (hard to imagine because of who they are)...

If the courts use the best interest to keep this child in home she is in now solely because of the actions of the parents and courts etc...the parents will also pay the ultimate price when the chld becomes a mature adult and realizes the injustices done to her father - because it will change her perception of who they are...

It is wrong what they (the AP's) are doing and have been doing since the very beginning - there would not be a bond to break if they had truly been acting in the best interests of the child instead of acting in their best interests.

People always seem to forget that us cute little babies grow up to be mature human beings...and able to form our own opinions on something as important to us as our own adoption...

The Maven said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for being sensitive enough to understand the issues here.

My mother kept my (birth) last name from me until I was 25 and a mother myself. Much as I would like to say it didn't affect our relationship - it did. She told me I was Scottish. At one point, I became convinced I was from a particular clan, and she laughed. Turned out - I was right, and she knew it. I felt - still feel - betrayed on some level.

That is such a *minor* little thing compared to the betrayal that the 'adoptive' parents are perpetrating on this little girl. I wholeheartedly believe that if he found out *now* - now that she's a toddler - that she existed, he wouldn't and shouldn't have a leg to stand on. The fact that they discovered his intentions so soon after her birth, and that he was awarded custody in Virginia so soon after her birth, I think does make them effective kidnappers. The state where the child was born should have jurisdiction, period, and if he - god forbid - loses, they will deserve everything their daughter feels toward them when she becomes an adult. Publicized as this is, there is no way for them to dupe her indefinitely.

I am absolutely stunned by the callousness of the adoptive mother you quoted, the people supporting her in her comments thread, the state of Utah, and most of all the 'adoptive' parents of the little girl.

Margie said...

"The case I’m talking about here is all wavering on that birth father saying he submitted papers to the court in time, and the adoptive family attorney proving that he did not have the papers filed until something like 2 days after the deadline."

Whoa. Julie appears to think this gives "rights" to the child to the adoptive family? What about DOING what's right?

When a father (or mother) like this one comes forward and makes it clear that he or she wants to parent their child, the law should support them. Adoptive parent entitlement really has to end.

I say this as an adoptive parent who would walk into fire for her kids. That love, however, doesn't eliminate my ability to tell right from wrong.

Margie said...

That said - and my outrage vented - I would like to add a couple of things.

- The patchwork quilt of custody laws across the country most definitely contributes to situations like this one. I don't know how that gets fixed, but it's an issue.

- The picture Julie paints of a child being "ripped" from its family does not have to be the way such a transition would take place.

- I think it's also important to make the point that the reason such situations occur may very well be because laws around custody, relinquishment and adoption need revision. I'm not sure how a father's desire to parent his child turns him into a villian save for the fact that adoption law has given adoptive parents the idea that a couple of days time is all it takes to irrevocably sever a birth relationship. Even if an adoption isn't contested, such an attitude is dangerous for an adoptive parent to have.

Sorry to hijack your blog! This clearly struck a nerve!

momofj said...

OMG! I have shortness of breath! PLEASE! WE all KNOW this story because we have seen this man all in the media telling his story, Dr Phil etc.... RIGHT? WRONG!!!!!! WE know HIS side and HIS ATTORNEY's side because they are dragging this case through the mud and any media that will pick it up.
There are ALWAYS two sides to EVERY story. KUDOS to the adoptive family for letting the courts decide and keeping THEIR daughter out of it.... That should be reason enough IMMEDIATELY to grant them custody. They PROTECT her....
This guy makes me crazy! COME ON DUDE! He is always looking so PITIFUL and sad on television. He is not happy unless this child is with him physically being shuffled to the sitter while he goes to work at night. He can't be happy that this child is loved, cared for by a family? He is the most narcisstic guy I've ever seen. He should have tried to work something out in the beginning with this family. Maybe it was wrong but seriously, for all involved, he should LET IT GO! Go find another woman, get married, have babies and have rights. He is the sperm donor as far as I am concerned.

Anonymous said...

In the end blood is thicker than water.

Anonymous said...

thanks for posting this Sally. Its a horribly disturbing truth that there are people out there who will try to justify keeping a child from her loving father. The Utah Supreme Court has now been sitting on this case for five months and that is certainly not the father's fault! He wasn't even allowed into the hospital! What a total perversion of what adoption is supposed to be and no thought at all for what the girl herself will believe in the future about being kept from her father. I tried to access the original post but can't find it. Has she taken it down? I hope not. If she's prepared to write something like that she should be prepared to read the responses. Even if responses are off, there are so many adoptees who should be able to read it. They deserve to know what this woman is saying about what could have been any of their situations. Do you have the original date on this post? thanks so much (sorry anon... google trouble) Clare P. (MA)

Anonymous said...

You need to check out a blog. The story is very simular- except that the father who is featured knew about the baby and was decieved. He didnt even know that his son was born much less given up, until a little after the week of his birth. The website is

steve said...

Hello I am 27 male, and i think its a shame about what's happened here. I watched the dateline show, and I can't believe how much of an injustice this is to the father.. I would rather see this girl go back to her biological father now than to see this girl in 7 or 8 years figure out that her adoptive parents aren't her blood parents and to know her real daddy was fighting for her this much since day one.. things will be worse for the girl in the long run. give the girl back to her dad NOW, end this bureaucracy NOW.. This story fired me up soo much, hypothetically speaking, Take my daughter away and let some adoptive parents tell my daughter that she was better off being raised by them than me.. what a crock of crap. thats all I have to say thanks

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. The only thing I cant understand is they know how much they want to be parents why would they want to take that away from this young man? They new from the start he wanted him I still cant believe that agency would let that happen. This is all so sad.

Anonymous said...

If this kidnapping is allowed to stand, I can only hope that when this child grows up, she finds out what her adoptive parents did and that she rightfully despises them as the hypocritical "family values" a$$holes they are. Just despicable...and oh so typical of Utah Mormons.

A Dad said...

Something tells me Meg and Ken was/were mad when Jaycee Lee Duggard was ripped away from the only family she knew and returned to her birth parents.

What if someone kidnapped your child? If after a couple of years, you could not get the child back, then you're out of luck? What an incentive for kidnappers! Just hold on, then we'll get to get the child because it's in her "best interests"

And before you say this is an adoption, not a kidnapping, I'm merely pointing out the absurdity that after a period of time, the dad's rights vanish.

Haze said...

This poor man has been through a lot with this case already. He should fight for his Emma and he will get her back. I have faith in him. I personally think that the adoptive parents are in the wrong and are having "the highest form of selfishness, bordering on evil." He is not being selfish for wanting to have his daughter in his life and wanting to know her. Hell the adoptive parents knew that he didn't even know what was going on and what he was suppose to do. I feel very strongly on this case and I would love to try to help him in anyway possible. If I were the people that received that child and didn't give her back to the birth father who actually wanted to raise her, care for her and love her like he is suppose to do, then I wouldn't be ale to live with myself. What kind of heartless people would keep a father that has done nothing really wrong in his life from being with his only child? To me that is evil. It makes me sick to hear things like this and that the law doesn't even care about the lives of the people that it ruins. What if one of their children were taken away like this and weren't told till it was too late? They will never know what this man feels like unless they are in the situation. The adoptive parents on the other hand knew what was going on and they did nothing to make this mans life easier. They said that he was making their lives hard but have they thought about what he is going through? Did they ever think of how he felt when he was told that he had sole custody of his child but then he couldn't have her cause of a messed up law in Utah? How sick is that? Why would they put him through that? that in my opinion his "is the highest form of selfishness, bordering on evil." This child is his blood, his seed, and without him she wouldn't be alive. What happens if this little girl grows up in their home and finds out about all of this and then she resents her adoptive parents for not letting her at least know her father? It breaks my heart thinking of this little girl and this man because they may never know each other and they are bonded by blood and heart. It's so sad to think this. Every state senator needs to get together and figure this shit out before they destroy the lives of innocent people. Please keep this matter close to your hearts.

Anonymous said...

I too saw the Dateline episode and I am horrified that the sate of Utah will let this kidnapping stand. I saw that John has full custody in the state of Virginia. If the kidnappers take Emma (or Gaby as they are now calling her) out of state, will they be arrested?

M Valdemar said...

"If ... the best interests of the child is to be the determining factor in child custody cases ... persons seeking babies to adopt might profitably frequent grocery stores and snatch babies from carts when the parent is looking the other way. Then, if custody proceedings can be delayed long enough, they can assert that they have a nicer home, a superior education, a better job or whatever, and that the best interests of the child are with the baby snatchers. Children of parents living in public housing or other conditions deemed less affluent and children of single parents might be considered particularly fair game." -- Justice James Heiple, Illinois Supreme Court in the "Baby Richard" case.

Megan said...

OMG! I was so horrified by this story, literally nauseated at the thought of being separated from my child and not being able to know her. Then I read the excerpt from the adoptive mother and her awful comments just added insult to injury. Adoptive parents are not entitled to steal anyone's child, ever, no matter how they try to justify it, this is simply wrong and unjust! It appears that the Utah law is purposely made to set up birth fathers to fail. That seems pretty shady and sinister to me. It is so apparent that Utah hides behind their law that allows children to be stolen and then justified. This is such a horrid injustice and these poor fathers who fall victim to the law will never get those moments or memories back with their children. The adoptive parents are wrong by holding on to this child knowing the father has fought from the beginning, all the while they hide behind this so-called law. People dare to condemn John Wyatt because of his media interviews but what else is he to do? I'm glad this is documented in his case so his child will one day see how hard he fought for her.

Anonymous said...

One day that girl is going to grow up and find out that her adopted parents basically kidnapped her from her biological father and family, who loved her and wanted her.

If I was that girl I would never forgive them, and I hope she doesn't.

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