Utah Adoption Council president resigns over fathers' rights issue

Published: Sunday, Oct. 4 2015 2:25 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — The president of the Utah Adoption Council resigned Tuesday amid controversy over claims the council is working to undermine the rights of birth fathers.

Wes Hutchins was to serve another month as president of the Utah Adoption Council — a group consisting of adoption agencies, adoption attorneys, families, and birth mothers and fathers. Instead, he's founded a new nonprofit organization called the Utah Council for Ethical Adoption Practices that he said will work in the best interests of all parties in adoptions.

In Tuesday’s council meeting where Hutchins resigned, some board members accused Hutchins of pursuing a personal agenda, while he blasted them for not acting ethically in administering adoptions.

"I'm an adoption attorney. I've done over 1,080 adoptions, (and) finalized six adoptions on Friday of last week alone," Hutchins said, following the meeting. "I'm a big proponent of adoptions, but I firmly believe they need to be done legally, constitutionally and ethically."

Hutchins pointed to what he calls "egregious cases of fraud," namely the case of Christopher Carlton, who was told by the birth mother in 2009 that his child had died, and the case of Robert Manzanares, who was told by the birth mother she was traveling from Colorado to Utah to visit relatives in 2008 when she was actually giving up their child.

These cases, and many like them, provide evidence, Hutchins said, that birth mothers should be held accountable.

"That's one of the changes that we need to make: that fraud is no longer accepted as a method of taking a child from one home, destroying a family, and placing (the child) in another home to create another family," he said. 

Utah law does not require an unmarried mother to notify the biological father of her intent to place the baby for adoption.

Hutchins said the reality is many birth fathers are illegally and unconstitutionally stripped of their rights to parent their child.

Others who sit on the UAC have different opinions.

"Wes has had a different vision of what's best for children in the state of Utah," said attorney David Hardy, also a former president of the UAC.

Hardy, whose clients include adoption agencies and adoptive parents, said Hutchins isn't as focused on what's best for the child.

"The council has very much over the years been dedicated to the best interest of the children and putting the child first," Hardy said. "Wes has taken more of the approach of some of the rights of fathers. He's taken some real strong positions on fathers that are, in many ways, inconsistent with Utah code."

"There's been a very choreographed effort to sweep birth fathers and others under the rug," Hutchins countered. And some of those birth fathers were present and vocal at the meeting.

"I do have a voice, and it needs to be heard," said Jake Strickland, a father currently fighting for custody of his child.

"There's two sides to every story," added Bobby Nevares, a man in the same situation as Strickland, "but they didn't want to hear the father's side."

Hutchins, who will remain on the UAC board, said the council didn't really want to hear his side either.

"If you want to call that an agenda, then absolutely, call it an agenda," he said. "And that agenda is to see that we have a balanced approach in Utah to how we're doing adoptions."   

Contributing:  Viviane Vo-Duc 

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