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Jake Strickland thought the mother of his child was going to keep their baby, not give the boy up for adoption.
Three years ago, the day before Whitney Vivian Pettersson Demke gave birth to their son, they were strolling Temple Square together, looking at the Christmas lights.
But the baby was swiftly placed with adoptive parents, as Strickland had not signed up with Utah's putative father registry to retain his parental rights.
Strickland is now embroiled in a legal battle to gain custody of his child, a struggle that reached the Utah Supreme Court on Wednesday morning.
Strickland's attorney, Wes Hutchins, argued that Demke deceived Strickland into thinking he had no reason to file and thus did not have a "meaningful opportunity to protect his rights."
"She intended all along [to put the child up for adoption] little known to Jake, because her conduct was exactly the contrary," Hutchins said following the hearing. "She had every intent all along to place the child for adoption without disclosing that to Jake."
Attorney Larry Jenkins representing the adoptive parents, who are identified in court documents only by their initials countered that Strickland was aware of what he needed to do to secure his rights, but didn't.
Justice Christine Durham seemed to share that sentiment, telling Hutchins that his client "knew of those rights and had plenty of time to exercise them."
The high court took the matter under advisement.
Strickland is among dozens of men who have waged similar fights in Utah, which arguably has the nation's strictest laws governing unwed father's rights.
"[Demke] told me that if I filed, she'd freak out," Strickland said after Wednesday's hearing. To sign up can cost $3,000 to $4,000 in attorney's fees, and Strickland said he would have rather spent that money on providing for his son.
Demke gave birth on Dec. 29 and a day later placed the baby for adoption. Strickland did not learn until Jan. 5 that Demke had already given birth and relinquished her rights to the child.
He learned in November 2011 that his son's adoption had been completed, but a 2nd District judge denied Strickland's efforts to challenge the adoption. Strickland filed a notice appeal last January.
Strickland also has a $130 million federal lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court against Demke, LDS Family Services, the adoptive parents and attorneys, alleging they conspired in an "illegal deceit-ridden infant adoption."
Hutchins clarified Wednesday that the adoptive parents are named as defendants so that he can find out what they did or did not know about the fraud.
Strickland added that the large sum of money is meant to deter adoption agencies from engaging in this sort of practice in the future.