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The Utah Supreme Court has ruled that an unmarried father forfeited his parental rights as a result of a bargain he struck with his son's mother, who promised not to place the child for adoption if he agreed not to file a paternity action.
Despite their deal, the girlfriend finalized adoption arrangements without telling the father, Jake Strickland. And because of his failure to comply with requirements of Utah's Adoption Act, Strickland cannot challenge the adoption.
In a unanimous ruling handed down Aug. 11, the high court upheld 2nd District Judge David Hamilton's denial of Strickland's motion to intervene in the adoption proceeding and the judge's rejection of the father's argument that "fraudulent representation" is an excuse for not filing a paternity action.
The Supreme Court decision pointed out that an Adoption Act provision says a parent of a child conceived outside of marriage is responsible for his or her own actions and is not excused from strict compliance "based upon any action, statement or omission of the other parent or third parties."
And the ruling said that the mother had no legal authority to excuse Strickland from the terms of the state's adoption laws, "which are aimed not just at protecting the birth mother but also other parties unrepresented by her most importantly, the child, and also its adoptive parents."
Strickland's girlfriend Whitney Vivian Demke, formerly know as Whitney Vivian Pettersson told him in April 2010 that she was pregnant and by August, she had decided, at least tentatively, to place the child for adoption, court documents say. The day after the boy was born on Dec. 29, 2010, Demke relinquished her parental rights and placed the newborn for adoption through LDS Family Services.
As required by law, LDS Family Services searched the records at Utah's Office of Vital Records and determined that as of Jan. 4, 2011, no paternity action had been filed. The agency then proceeded with the adoption.
Between the date of the boy's birth and the records search, Strickland asked Demke multiple times about the pregnancy and expressed excitement about raising a child, the Supreme Court ruling says. Each time, she either dodged the question or misled him, the ruling says.
When Demke finally broke the news of the birth and adoption, Strickland began a paternity action and later tried to challenge the pending adoption proceeding. He appealed to the Supreme Court after Hamilton denied his motion to intervene.
Strickland also filed suit in Utah's federal court against Demke, LDS Family Services, the attorneys involved in the adoption and the adoptive parents, alleging the adoption was illegal and "deceit-ridden," among other claims. He is seeking a minimum of $130 million in general and punitive damages.
U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson dismissed all claims in February against the adoption agency, the attorneys and the adoptive parents. He also dismissed some of the claims against Demke.
Demke, who acknowledges in court papers that she placed the child for adoption without Strickland's knowledge, denies the suit's claims against her, which include allegations of fraud.