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Some Utah adoption agencies 'coach' mothers to take rights from fathers

9:04 PM, May 9, 2012   |    comments
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Utah adoption lawyer Wes Hutchins says he has audio recordings as proof. The way some adoption agencies handle birth mothers Hutchins claims "is an invitation for birth mothers to lie, cheat and defraud birth fathers into thinking they don't have anything to worry about."

"The idea that the birth mother can travel from any state to Utah and be in Utah for two or three days and then give birth to a child and then leave the state with the sole purpose of cutting off the rights of the biological father has to stop," Hutchins said.

Rob Manzanares says that's what happened to him. He will soon get to visit his daughter in Utah where she is living with her adoptive family.

A Colorado judge ruled on April 27 that Manzanares' parental rights should not be terminated.

The Utah Supreme Court had ruled earlier that deception was part of the adoption process in Utah. Utah has the most conservative adoption laws in the U.S. that favor the birth mother. Opponents say it's become a safe haven for mothers looking to place their children without the birth father's involvement.

Hutchins has served as the president of the Utah Adoption Council and says he wanted to investigate an unsettling hunch.

He had employees from his law firm called adoption agencies at random. They posed as a woman asking about the process for an expectant mom from another state. The woman said her sister was unexpectedly pregnant, unmarried and wanted to place the child, but the birth father did not.

Hutchins recorded those conversations.

One agency said, "If he's going to just be a total pain in the butt, then we can definitely just not have him involved at all."

Another said, "I'd say literally over 99 percent of the time the guys just get caught up in it and everything, and then they find out they're gonna have to pay $30,000 in legal fees, they're just like, 'Whatever, never mind.'"

"Many adoption agency actually coach on what they should say and what they should do and what they shouldn't say and what they shouldn't do in order to keep birth fathers in the dark," Hutchins said.

On the recordings, a counselor said, "Well, [the birth mother] won't have to worry about [the birth father]. Let's just put it that way."

Another said, "You can tell the birth father anything after you give birth; might be easier to tell the birth father that you were in an accident, and the baby died."

There are recordings of some agencies promising cash bonuses to birth mothers who come to Utah to deliver and place their child.

"She would actually go home with some money in her pocket," one agent said on a recording.

9NEWS heard audio of three agencies that promised to pay airline tickets, travel expenses and put the woman in a furnished apartment until the baby was born. One offered what they called "final placement money."

"It's usually about $3,000," a woman with an agency said.

Another said, "We will give you an envelope of cash when you place, and you can spend that however you want."

Only one agency that was called would not pay anything, saying they had to be very clear that no one was trying to buy a baby.

"To be really honest, our agency, we really follow adoption laws ... but not all other agencies, I hate to say it, but do just have different ethical, moral standards than we do," the agency member said.

Hutchins presented the transcripts to the Utah legislature saying the coaching from some adoption agencies is at the very least manipulative and wrong. He used them as evidence that the law in Utah needs to be changed.

"For example, they'll say, 'Don't tell the birth father that you are coming to Utah. Wait until just before you are ready to come, and then send him a little text message, make sure you keep a copy of it, that you are going to Utah temporarily, but you'll be back,'" Hutchins said.

Manzanares says that mirrors what happened to him.

"I'll be flying to Utah to visit my father in Feb. for a week maybe a little longer," A message from Terry said, in part. "In April, I will be willing to sit down and talk with you."

Manzanares' daughter was born during that trip. He never got a call. There was never a conversation, just a four-year legal wrestling match.

His fight began in 2008 when he and his long-time girlfriend discovered they were expecting a child.

"I could never wait to be a dad," he said.

He says the mother, Carie Terry, then started talking about adoption out of the blue.

Because of that, Manzanares filed for paternity of the child in Colorado before she was born. Terry did not show up at the hearing and Manzanares says he had no idea she'd traveled to Utah and given birth early.

Court documents show she'd already given consent for her brother and his family to adopt the baby, even though she knew Manzanares wanted to raise her.

Utah's adoption law allowed her to do that because it gives very few rights to fathers in cases of adoption. Manzanares was not even put on his daughter's birth certificate.

Things have changed.

Manzanares is the first father to fight the Utah adoption system and win. His name is now on his daughter's birth certificate, and he has earned custody rights.

He has won the right to spend time with his daughter; he hopes one day she'll be able to know her younger half brother.

In his first meeting with his daughter, he will go with a therapist who will help with what is called "initial reunification therapy." That will happen in May.

A bill to change the adoption laws in Utah to make help protect the rights of unmarried biological fathers who want to raise their children was held over for the next session.

 

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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