Recent case highlights difficulties for unmarried parents
Failure to file affidavit in time prevents biological father from custody of son
Although society is nowadays more accepting of unwed parents raising children, under Utah law unmarried mothers and fathers occasionally face extra difficulties in asserting their parental rights. In a recent case from the Utah Supreme Court, an unwed father lost custody of his child because he failed to file an important affidavit by the legally mandated deadline, according to Deseret News. The case also highlights just how important it is for parents and couples to have qualified legal representation when dealing with their family law matters.
This case involved two biological parents of a now three-year-old boy who were not married when the mother gave birth to the child. Just prior to the boy’s birth, the father filed a number of documents with the courts in order to establish his paternity and work out a plan for custody and child support.
The mother, however, planned to give the child up for adoption, which she did once the boy was born. According to the Courthouse News Service, the adoptive parents told the father they would be adopting the boy without the father’s consent because he had failed to submit a signed affidavit by the deadline required by law.
The biological father argued before the court that his previous counsel failed to notify him of the affidavit requirement and, furthermore, that his due process rights were violated because of the affidavit requirement. Only unwed fathers and not mothers are required to file such affidavits. Utah law justifies the discrepancy by assuming that a mother who carries a child to full term inherently displays an interest in the child whereas with a father no such assumptions can be made.
The Utah Supreme Court delivered a split 3-2 decision against the father noting that “countless unwed fathers have cleared” the affidavit requirement that he failed to meet. They also said that the father failed to show that his due process rights had been violated. The adoptive parents, who were fighting against the biological parent’s legal efforts, expressed relief with the decision, while the biological father has indicated he may appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Child custody cases such as the one above are often highly fraught, especially since here the rights of both the adoptive parents and the biological father were at stake. Although the above case is unique in a number of ways, the highly charged emotions are common to many child custody cases.
Furthermore, the case shows why it is so important for parents and couples dealing with a family law matter to have experienced legal representation. Although many parents are often tempted to solve their family law issues by themselves, the above story shows how a lack of expert legal advice can lead to severe consequences pertaining to such important matters as child custody and parental rights.