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A Colorado man was improperly denied an opportunity to contest an adoption in Utah of a son born from a brief sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl, the Utah Supreme Court ruled Friday.
Bobby L. Nevares preserved his parental interest in Utah by acting to do so in Colorado, the high court said in reversing a decision by 4th District Judge Claudia Laycock.
An attorney for Nevares, Joshua Peterman, hailed the court's ruling.
"The decision is an important step in eliminating the ability of adoption agencies to obtain children through fraud and deceit," he said in an email. "There are a number of agencies here in Utah who are more concerned with earning a fee than the fundamental constitutional right of a father to parent his child."
The next step for Nevares is to return to court "so that my client can finally hold his child in his arms," Peterman said.
Nevares and the birth mother, identified only as M.L.S., had a brief relationship that ended in January 2010 and from which she emerged pregnant. She told Nevares she planned to place the infant for adoption and he told her he was willing to parent the child, according to court records.
But the birth mother proceeded to contact two adoption agencies, the Adoption Center of Choice in Utah and Adoption Options in Colorado.
In mid-September 2010, the Colorado agency contacted Nevares and he visited twice, expressing his desire to take custody of the child.
The birth mother, without telling Navares, decided to work with the Utah agency. She arrived in Utah two days before giving birth on Sept. 29, 2010, and the boy was placed for adoption by the Utah agency a day later.
Navares went to court to contest the adoption but Laycock ruled that he had failed to follow Utah law in protecting his parental rights. The Utah Supreme Court, however, said Nevares didn't know the child might be placed up for adoption in Utah and by asserting his desire to parent the child in Colorado, he also preserved his rights under Utah law.
The court also rejected the argument that Utah law barred Nevares from contesting the adoption because the relationship with M.L.S. was a sexual offense in this state.
Nevares was 20 when the child was conceived and the girl only 15, which could amount to statutory rape under Utah law.
The high court agreed with Laycock and ruled that the sexual conduct took place in Colorado and thus fell outside of the jurisdiction of Utah law.
A person in Nevares' situation "would arguably look to Colorado law on the matter," the court said, concluding that Colorado law, "as we understand it, would not have foreclosed Nevares' parental rights based on his sexual relationship with M.L.S."
Justice Christine Durham also argued that the sexual conduct was legal in Colorado and that means Navares has a constitutionally protected right to participate in his child's upbringing.