Soldier fights for custody of his daughter in Utah
Father’s often face an uphill battle in family courts for a number of reasons; one of these reasons can be establishing paternity. In many states a mother can opt out of identifying the child’s biological father on the birth certificate. For unwed fathers this can limit their ability to enforce their parental rights and in some instances will preclude them from knowledge of the child’s existence. The result of the paternity status quo is a significant disadvantage in custody cases.
So it would seem that being married would protect a man’s paternity rights, as many states automatically acknowledge the husband as the biological father. Meaning, if the mother is married when the baby is born, her husband is considered by law to be the father unless there is a court order to the contrary. In theory a father that has established legal paternity is entitled to the same rights to parent as the mother.
Unfortunately for a Utah man, marriage didn’t protect his paternal rights. Army Staff Sergeant Terry Achane returned from active duty, not to a hero’s welcome, but to the shocking news that his wife had given their newborn daughter up for adoption. While the couple had been experiencing marital issues, the news of the adoption was a surprise. It took Achane several months to track down the couple that adopted his daughter.
Once his child was located, Achane petitioned for enforcement of his paternal custody rights. The Fries were ordered by a Provo, UT judge to return the child to her biological father. The Salt Lake Tribune quoted Achane’s attorney:
“This is a case of human trafficking,” said Mark Wiser. “Children are being bought and sold. It is one thing what [adoption agencies] have been doing with unmarried biological fathers. It is in a new area when they are trying to take a child away from a married father who wants to have his child.”
CNN has reported that the adoption agency acknowledged to the adoptive parents (Jared and Kristi Frei) that the biological father had not been informed of the adoption and warned of the possibility that the child could be returned to her father. The Fries proceeded with the adoption in spite of this information.
The court order to return the child grants the Fries 60 days to turn over custody—but the Fries aren’t ready to concede. They are appealing the court’s decision to return the child and have set up a website to solicit donations to cover legal expenses.
The child’s biological mother, Tira Bland, now divorced from Achane, stated in an interview with ABC news:
“My heart was comfortable with her being with the Fries,” she said. “I’d rather see her with me struggling first before she goes with him.” Bland further commented “[The Fries] cared about me and the well being of Teleah when he wasn’t there, when he didn’t care. He showed no interest in me being pregnant. When he left me, he didn’t leave me with an address. I didn’t have a home address on him.”
Contrary to Blands claims, available information shows that Achane financially supported Bland during the pregnancy and that he expressed interest in being a father. According to Achane’s attorney, the judge hearing the case deemed Bland’s story not credible and ruled the child be returned to her biological father.
Given the Fries’ appeal, it may be weeks or months before Achane is reunited with his daughter.