Family Law

Utah and the Rights of Unmarried Biological Fathers: John Wyatt and his fight for Baby Emma

In Utah, if you get a woman to whom you are not married pregnant, you have to act quickly if you don’t want your child to be adopted out from under your nose. In fact, even if you don’t live in Utah, but the potential adoptive parents of your child live in Utah, you must act quickly. The attention of the country was captured by the plight of a Virginia father who was fighting for his daughter, known as “Baby Emma”, who was given up for adoption by her mother (also a Virginia resident) to a Utah couple. Although Mr. Wyatt followed the putative father laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia, registering as the child’s putative father in Virginia within the state’s statutory time period, a Utah court applied its own stricter putative father registry requirement. Under Utah law, an unmarried putative father has only 24 hours from the time of the child’s birth to register as the child’s father, or he risks losing the right to oppose the adoption of his child (which would effectively be a termination of his parental rights). This provision only applies to unmarried fathers, and, aside from the extremely short timeframe in which to register, is a fairly common requirement for unmarried fathers in many states across the country.

Recently, after months before Utah courts that have utilized Utah law to conclude that Mr. Wyatt has lost his daughter forever because he failed to register with the Utah Putative Father Registry within 24 hours of the child’s birth, Wyatt filed a lawsuit in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia challenging Utah’s adoption laws on federal Due Process, Equal Protection and other federal constitutional grounds. Wyatt’s due process argument addresses Utah’s extremely quick deadline for a putative father to register, and alleges that the difficulty of finding the Utah putative father registry is a barrier to putative fathers who want to register, among other, more colorful arguments.

Under federal law, it is the fundamental right of parents to parent their children without governmental interference. However, domestic relations law is largely left in the realm of the state, which is why Mr. Wyatt was faced with a seemingly endless gauntlet of competing state laws regarding his status as Baby Emma’s unmarried father.

If you are a single man who has a pregnant girlfriend or intimate acquaintance, and you would like help asserting your parental rights, please seek the advice of a qualified family law professional.

For more information regarding the Baby Emma case:

Salt Lake Tribune article

Federal Complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia

For information regarding Utah’s Putative Father Registry:

Utah Putative Father Registry

Bureau of Vital Records

288 North 1460 West

PO Box 141012

Salt Lake City, UT 84114-1012

(801) 538-6363 or (801) 538-6380