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Nearly two years ago, Robert Manzanares acknowledged after a Utah Supreme Court ruling in his favor that he still faced an "uphill battle" in his effort to parent a daughter placed for adoption in Utah without his knowledge.
That mountain has proved even steeper than Manzanares expected.
Since that ruling in January 2012, Manzanares and the prospective adoptive parents relatives of the child's mother have engaged in an ongoing legal fight over the now nearly 6-year-old girl's custody. That dispute may be sorted out this week by a juvenile court judge in Denver, Colo., who is has set a three-day hearing in the matter that begins Tuesday.
Manzanares wants sole custody of his daughter, though he supports the idea of her having a continuing relationship with the Utah couple, He says the prospective adoptive parents have proposed a shared custody agreement that would essentially treat him like a divorced, out-of-state father with visitation rights.
"It's just unbelievable that it can take a father five years to gain visitation, much less six years to get to who has the right to raise his child when constitutionally he should have every right to raise his child when he's done everything like I have," Manzanares said Friday in a telephone interview.
Mike Hulen, an attorney representing the Utah couple, said he was not at liberty to discuss the case. Mike Cheroutes, an attorney representing Manzanares, did not return a telephone message.
In its ruling, the Utah Supreme Court found that Manzanares had been improperly denied a say in his daughter's adoption. He filed a paternity petition in Colorado months before his former girlfriend Carie Terry was set to give birth. But unbeknownst to Manzanares and contrary to what she told a Colorado judge Terry traveled to Utah in February 2008, where she gave birth to the infant at least four weeks prematurely and signed off on a plan to have her brother and sister-in-law adopt the girl.
Manzanares learned of the birth days later and intervened in the adoption proceeding, which was dismissed after the Utah Supreme Court ruling. The child has remained with the prospective adoptive parents.
A Utah child psychologist who has overseen reunification therapy gradually introduced Manzanares to the girl as her father. Manzanares has been able to see her during weekend trips to Utah and she traveled to New Mexico, where he now lives, in September for an extended visit.
Currently, Manzanares is able to see his daughter about once a month because "that is what they allow me to do."
Manzanares said the psychologist is recommending his daughter stay with the Utah couple.
"I think they should still play a role in her life," he said, but "it will have to be something I agree on and is in her best interersts."