Utah Supreme Court

Virginia Dad Fights Utah Law For Baby Emma

Last week, in a little publicized case, the Utah Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a dispute in which a Virginia father, John Wyatt, is pleading for the ability to be a dad to his biological daughter. The details of the story that has brought John to this point are complex and tear jerking and, in the end, all one can do is pray for the wisdom of Solomon for the justices who must make this difficult decision. Up for debate is a convoluted mix of adoption and kidnapping laws, competing states rights, and a father's rights. Here's the story: In May 2008, John's girlfriend, Emily, from Dumfries, learned she was pregnant and that John was the father. John went with Emily to her doctors' appointments, spoke often about marriage, and made plans to be at the hospital for the birth of their daughter. However, in January 2009, Emily began talking to an adoption agency in Utah and made plans to put their baby up for adoption — all, according to John, without his knowledge.

Emily gave birth to Baby Emma in February of 2009, signing a waiver of Virginia law and following through with her Utah adoption plans. Baby Emma's adoptive-parents-to-be, the Zarembinskis, traveled to Virginia to meet Emma and returned to Utah with her within the week. On the day Emily gave birth, John called the hospital, discovered that Emma had been born, but was denied the ability to see his child. John then filed for custody of Emma in Virginia. A few days later, the Zarembinskis filed for adoption in Utah.

It gets more complex: Virginia law states that a biological father must be made aware of adoption proceedings and, as a result, a Virginia court granted John temporary custody of Emma — stating that he had made a substantial effort to ensure his parental rights. However, Utah law gives the biological mother flexibility in the placement of her child and maintains stringent paternity requirements. Therefore, a Utah court granted the Zarembinskis temporary custody of Emma. A few months later, Virginia granted John permanent custody of Emma, referring to a federal kidnapping act. Now, the determination of Emma's rightful parents lies in the hands of the Utah Supreme Court.

The most heart wrenching part of all is that it never should have reached the point where it is now, where a judge must determine whether the biological father of a child he wants deserves guardianship of his own child; or whether the adoptive parents of 18 months deserve guardianship.

Guardianship determination aside, this unfortunate story brings light to a difficult issue — fathers are not always given their deserved rights over their children. Not only in adoption cases, but also in divorce custody and abortion cases. For example, a mother can make a unilateral decision to abort her child without the fathe's knowledge or consent; or, as in this story, according to John, his child was given up for adoption without his consent.

While it is a laudable decision that Emily chose life for her child despite strenuous circumstances, the situation should never have reached this point of tug of war where a child's biological father is battling her adoptive parents. However, reality stands and John Wyatt is now fighting for a life with Baby Emma.