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Adoption battle quashed by Utah Supreme Court


OREM — For three years, two families have wanted the same baby.

The birth father and his family have been fighting the legal system and an Orem adoption agency, declaring that the father's rights as a parent have been violated.

The birth mother, who lives in California, said she's been slandered and maligned for choosing what she felt was the best for her baby.

In the meantime, the baby's adoptive parents have been raising the little girl, praying that soon they'll be able to permanently call her theirs.

After a recent Utah Supreme Court decision affirming a 3rd District Court ruling, the longed-for adoption finalization is closer than ever before.

The Supreme Court ruled this week that the baby's birth father, Cody O'Dea, waived all of his parental rights in 2006 by not complying with Utah law to establish paternity.

In a 3-2 decision, the high court also wrote that O'Dea's four appeal issues hadn't been raised in the district court, and thus were not preserved in the federal arena.

What has now become a bitter baby battle began in 2005, when 18-year-old Ashley Olea got pregnant.

O'Dea finally learned the child had been born in Utah and immediately placed for adoption; however, because O'Dea had only registered on the putative father registries in Wyoming and Montana, which notify biological fathers of future adoption hearings, he hadn't been notified of any adoption proceedings in Utah.

The high court ruled that because Olea had called O'Dea before the baby's birth and said she was in Utah, he should have taken the steps to register here. Because he didn't, when O'Dea tried to assert his parental rights in late summer 2006, he was told he was too late.

But he's still fighting.

The O'Deas' Web site states: "He wants to raise his daughter. Adoption was never an option. He won't quit until she's home."

Multiple calls to O'Dea's Odgen-based attorney were not returned, and e-mails to the family went unanswered.

The whole situation was never about cutting O'Dea out of the picture, but doing what was best for the baby, Olea said.

"I'm very pleased," said Olea, now 23. "Sorry that it took so long, but this was completely my decision from the beginning to place the child for adoption. I'm absolutely thrilled that we finally got the ruling in their favor."

Although Olea started the adoption process through LDS Family Services in Wyoming, when O'Dea sent them a letter asserting his parental rights, they pulled out of the adoption proceedings, said attorney Larry Jenkins.

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Jenkins represents the Adoption Center of Choice in Orem, the nonprofit agency Olea used, which he says has no ties to the LDS Church.

The center placed the newborn baby with the prospective family in June 2006, but only a few months later, O'Dea filed a paternity suit against the clinic, putting the adoption, and everyone's ability to move forward, on hold. Until now.

"We are thrilled with the outcome of the case," the adoptive parents wrote in a statement. "We have been very blessed by the miracle of adoption and feel it unfortunate that our experience had to include a lengthy, expensive and emotionally draining court battle."

The family, who has asked to remain anonymous due to the strained nature of the proceedings, said they enjoy an "open adoption" with Olea and her family and that they wish O'Dea and his family could have realized those same benefits and avoided the three-year legal battle.

Olea and her family frequently talk with the adoptive parents, and Olea has even visited her daughter, who is healthy and happy, she said.

If O'Dea wanted the same relationship, he would need to talk with the adoptive parents, Olea said, adding she has never stopped him from trying.

"Adoption is a really beautiful process," Olea said. "I feel really bad for the way it all had to go down. My heart goes out to his family. They've now missed out on the chance to be a part of this really wonderful experience."By Sara Israelsen-Hartley

2009 Jul 30