Family Law

Is Utah a Magnet for Unfair Adoptions? State Chief Justice Sees a Risk, and Critics Agree


A Virginia father’s fight to regain custody of a daughter adopted without his consent highlights Utah’s pro-adoption laws in cases of children born out of wedlock.

The case highlighted on Dr. Phil has produced “a cross-country court fight,” the Washington Post reports. Nightclub worker John Wyatt filed for custody of the child known as “Baby Emma” in Virginia just eight days after she was born.

A Virginia judge awarded custody to Wyatt and ordered Emma returned to him, citing federal kidnapping laws. But a Utah judge granted temporary custody to the adoptive parents. A Utah appeals court will consider the issues on May 24.

“My daughter is being held hostage,” Wyatt told the Post. “She was kidnapped and cradle-robbed from me, and I’m baffled that nothing has been done.”

Critics say Utah’s pro-adoption laws make it all but impossible for out-of-state fathers to prevent the adoption of their children born out of wedlock, the story says. In at least 10 recent cases, lawyers say, babies born in Utah or taken to the state were adopted despite a lack of consent from the fathers.

Utah Chief Justice Christine Durham issued a dissent in one of the cases last year. She warned that the state “risks becoming a magnet for those seeking to unfairly cut off opportunities for biological fathers.”

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