New Mexico dad's adoption case shakes up Utah courts
A Los Alamos father says he’s fighting the battle of his life for custody of his daughter.
He says she was taken away from him at birth.
That was four years ago – now the little girl is living in Utah with her biological mother’s family.
But it’s how she got there in the first place that’s literally shaking up the legal system in that state.
Robert Manzanares says his pregnant girlfriend Carie Terry started changing after a Mormon bishop told he she wouldn’t reach the highest level of heaven unless she adopted her child to a Mormon familiy.
“I told her I disagreed - that I wouldn't allow my child to be adopted. I said from that point on adoption is not in my vocabulary,” Manzanares told us.
Manzanares hired an attorney and began the legal battle against Terry to keep his daughter. But court documents show deceit was in the air – and Terry soon concocted a plan.
“Unbeknownst to me, she had written me an email - she was only eight months pregnant at the time - that she would be going out to see her ill father in Utah,” said Manzanares. But according to adoption records in Utah, that wasn’t true
They show that while there, Terry actually gave birth early and allowed her brother and his wife to adopt her child – all behind Manzanares’ back.
“And then the battle was in Utah. It was then to go to Utah and fight a court system that's very unfavorable to un-wed biological father,” he said.
Manzanares immediately filed for paternity in Utah, but a district judge upheld the adoption.
He says he’s only seen his daughter one time, for just a few hours.
As his attorney discovered, in Utah, it is within the mother’s rights to lie to the biological father and put a child up for adoption without his knowledge.
It boils down to legalized perjury.
The battle has lasted for more than four years, costing Manzanares thousands and forcing him to travel between Utah and his current home of Los Alamos.
“It has cost me over $170,000 in attorney fees, I've been to court 11 times I've been to the Supreme Court of Utah,” he told us.
Utah’s Supreme Court took the case. It took almost a year and a half, but the court ruled in his favor, reversing the lower court’s decision which had denied Manzanares his parental rights.
There’s just one more hurdle in court before Manzanares gets full custody – but after more than four years, he says it’s all worth it.
“It's the finish line - we're going to be together. She's going to know her father, she's going to know him at a young age - I'm going to know her, I'm going to get to raise her, I'm going to get to be with her - I'm so happy it's exciting I mean everything I fought for is now coming to an end it's a reality that we will be together now and I'll be in her life.”
The Utah Supreme Court’s ruling is being called groundbreaking. It is the first time in the state’s history that the court has ruled in a biological father’s favor.
Now lawmakers are trying to change the law to give unwed fathers more legal rights.