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Cover Story

Some Call It Kidnapping Page 3

How Utah adoption laws take babies from the nation's unmarried fathers.

By Jesse Fruhwirth
Posted // July 28,2010 -

“It’s Kidnapping”
Like Thurnwald, Wyatt believed that he and girlfriend, Colleen Fahland, would raise baby Emma together. He went to doctor appointments and spoke to the baby soothingly inside Fahland’s belly, with the belief that childhood connection to a father’s voice can begin before birth. Wyatt and Fahland, who have known each other since second grade and dated for about three years prior to the pregnancy, are still romantically involved, he says. While Fahland has declined all interviews with the news media, her attorney and Wyatt say she regrets her role in the adoption.

On the day of the Emma’s birth, Wyatt and his mother arrived at the hospital for the delivery, but the hospital would not let them in. So-called “silent patient” privacy policies allow patients to have no information released about them.

Wyatt knows what happened next only secondhand from Fahland and from court testimony. He says she was isolated in a hotel room and pressed by representatives of the adoption agency and her own mother to sign the relinquishment papers. “To me, it sounds like they took advantage of her,” Wyatt says.

It’s disputed whether Wyatt filed for custody of the child in Virginia court before the adoption papers were signed by Fahland, but both sides agree a Virginia court has granted temporary custody to Wyatt while the Utah court granted temporary custody to adoptive parents, Thomas and Chandra Zarembinski of Utah. The Zarembinskis could not be reached for comment. Jenkins, their attorney, however, says Wyatt didn’t comply with the time requirements of either state. Wyatt and his nephew

Joshua Peterman is Wyatt’s attorney in Utah. “Everybody knew from Day 1 that [Wyatt] was opposed to the adoption, interested in raising the child and ready, willing and able,” Peterman says.

Peterman believes the adoption violated the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, which prevents parents from seeking a child-custody order in another state once one state has already decided the matter. He argues the act clearly determines that Virginia should decide what happens to baby Emma, who turned 17 months old this month. The Zarembinskis are required to appear for an order-to-show-cause hearing in Virginia in August for violating the judge’s custody order in favor of Wyatt. The Utah Supreme Court will consider the case in September.

For John and his mother, Jeri Wyatt, the Zarembinskis and A Act of Love Adoption Agency are outright kidnappers, and they’re not ashamed of making that strong accusation. “We’ve asked nicely plenty of times. We’ve gone through the legal and court system and they still haven’t given her back,” John Wyatt says. “But I’m keeping faith that they’ll do the right thing and return my child."

Wyatt maintains the Web site

Lobbyist Larry
Many of these fathers blame one man more than any other for their situation: Larry Jenkins. He’s been a fixture on Capitol Hill for at least the past five years as the sponsor of new adoption legislation. He is, and was, opposing counsel in the cases with Wyatt and Shaud, as well as Thurnwald and O’Dea.

During the 2010 session of the Utah Legislature, former Rep. Sheryl Allen, the Bountiful Republican who is the Democrats’ candidate for lieutenant governor, sponsored a bill that impacted several aspects of Utah adoption laws, and in one section further restricted putative fathers’ access to their children. At her side was Jenkins—he did most of the talking. She introduced him to the Senate and House health and human services committees only as a leader of the Utah Adoption Council. Neither she nor Jenkins mentioned his lobbyist ties, though Allen says in an interview that she was aware of them.

Jenkins was the only expert to testify regarding the bill, saying multiple times, “There’s nothing in this bill that changes current law. We’re just taking what the [Utah] Supreme Court said last year and putting it into code.” The bill further restricted a father’s ability to challenge a Utah adoption through challenges filed in other states (click here to get more information on the bill from the Utah Legislature Web site, including audio recordings of committee testimony).

While Jenkins’ claims about the Supreme Court rulings were true, he didn’t mention that the fathers in those cases were procedurally barred from claiming that their constitutional rights were violated, that one of the cases was a 3-2 decision, nor that Chief Justice Christine Durham, in her dissent, expressed concerns that the majority was not correctly interpreting the legislative intent behind the word “residency” as it pertains to the birth mothers. Jenkins didn’t mention Davis’ concern about fathers’ “impossible bind” or Durham’s worries about Utah’s potential magnetism for mothers wanting to unfairly clip fathers’ rights.

Jenkins’ response: “I know that Chief Justice said what she said, but I haven’t had anybody suggest that there ought to be something changed about the statute. … Why comment on provisions we aren’t changing?” he asked.

Many lawmakers are unfamiliar with the intricacies of the laws; for example, two members of the committees that approved the bill explicitly admitted their ignorance. Moreover, in an interview, Allen, who has sponsored multiple bills at the behest of the Utah Adoption Council and Jenkins, said she does not believe that families who do not travel to Utah should be allowed to place their child for adoption under Utah law. She was unaware that laws she has personally amended multiple times in past years authorize exactly that and laid the foundation for the cross-state battle in the Wyatt case.

Rep. Lorie Fowlke says a lobbyist like Jenkins is entitled to slant his testimony in favor of his clients. The family-law attorney is concerned, however, that most legislators may be unaware, as she was, that Jenkins is a lobbyist for adoption firms like A Act of Love—which had $9.6 million in gross receipts (pdf) between 2004 and 2008—and is not just a leader of the Utah Adoption Council, which earns virtually no revenue (pdf).

“That should have been something they knew … so they know where he’s coming from,” she says. “I think [Jenkins being a lobbyist] changes the color of it just a bit.”

Baby Battles
Even after all the court fights, when and if the fathers are successful at stopping the adoption—and some of them are—they don’t automatically take custody of the child. “These birth fathers, they say they want the child, but if they stop the adoption, the reality is they’re not going to get the child, the mother is,” Jenkins says. “And 99 percent of the time, they’re going to pay child support for 18 years and the child is going to bounce back and forth [between mom and dad].” Seeking adoption services cannot be used as a negative against the mother in the ensuing custody battle; Jenkins promoted bills in recent years that prevent that.

Drage has represented fathers who stopped an adoption only to lose custody of the child to the mother and pay child support. But for those fathers, he said, any contact with their child is better than none.

Seventeen years ago, author and paralegal Erik L. Smith, of Dayton, Ohio, successfully stopped the adoption of his own child. Since then, he’s written a book, yet to be published, that contains 152 pages describing putative father/adoption contests across the country. He says, “Utah is out of control. … Utah is more burdensome [to putative fathers] than any other state.

Smith thinks there’s a national conspiracy of adoption practitioners: “They have a network of attorneys, the agencies do, where if a father does what he’s supposed to do in the home state, the agency can call up an attorney in Utah, and the mother will go there.”

That’s a problem for adoptions everywhere. Adam Pertman, author of Adoption Nation, says profits may explain some of the moral compromises made by adoption agencies, but even more so, he says, practitioners can be shortsighted and convince themselves that cutting out the father is the right thing to do.

“They may mean well in helping this one woman or one child … but when the negative publicity hits, when we see cases like the ones we’re observing now … the damage is done,” Pertman says. “The [repercussions are] even broader because too many people look at cases like this, they don’t know how common they are—rare or everyday—they just shake their head. Then they look at their next-door neighbor who adopted and wonder, ‘Did they do that, too?’ "

Listen to RadioActive at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 29, to hear more about this story. Tune in to KRCL 90.9 FM or stream it live at

Gone Baby Gone:
A Mexican grandmother fights Utah's bureaucracy for custody of her nieta. (Apr. 29, 2009)

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Post a comment
Posted // November 27,2012 at 12:10

Where is the part about the child's right?


Posted // June 23,2012 at 23:03

While I think adoption can be a beautiful thing (One of my friends is a happy adoptee who has a relationship with her natural and adoptive parents, and the other one is a natural mother who is a friend of her first child's adoptive family) it needs to be done ETHICALLY. Fathers are important too and they need to have rights! Adoption agencies who act unethically need to be held accountable for their actions.


Posted // January 7,2012 at 12:01

Shame on Utah for stealing babies.  Baby Emma will be returned to her father someday.  What happened is sickening.


Posted // January 7,2012 at 18:24 - I did answer your question, re-read it. If a mother abandons her responsibility she is just as liable as a father. And you are wrong, a father doe snot need t relinquish to another father. That is one way. But he can just relinquish same as the mother - allowing the child to a be adopted.


Posted // August 19,2011 at 21:35 This is BS. Yeah maybe it was considered "legal" in the state of Utah but this is so so wrong. Come on people think about this. Think about how you would feel if you were the baby all grown up and found out your biological father tried to get custody of you and the state you were born in denied him or worse that your mother denied him. This is terrible. Many mothers fight every day to have their childrens fathers in their childs life only to be let down. This father wants to be a daddy and no one will let him. They just keep hiding behind some law that doesnt even make sense! If anyone has proven that he would be a father to his child its Ramsey Shaud! Keep fighting for whats right! My thoughts and prayers are with you.


Posted // January 7,2012 at 18:40 - No, you did NOT answer my question. I asked Angie to justify her assertion that a mother should be allowed to relinquish her financial responsibilites, when we do not allow fathers that same option. Unless you hold the same position as Angie, and are willing to defend it, then your posts here are pointless. And NO, an unmarried father (which is what we are talking about) cannot unilaterally relinquish his financial responsiblity. You are just plain wrong about this. Either another man has to accept the financial burden, or the mother must agree to an adoption. Neither of these possibilities are in any way "unilateral".


Posted // January 7,2012 at 18:18 - All of that was already known to me. Your information was actually pretty pedantic, so no, you did not answer my question. You apparently did not even pay attention to what my question was. If you'll read it again, my question was to Angie, asking why she considers it acceptable for a mother to unilaterally relinquish her financial responsibility when a father cannot. And NO, a father CANNOT unilaterally relinquish his financial responsibilities. He has to find some other man who is will to accept the burden in his place. And NO, this does not happen "often" as you state. It is, in fact, very rare. For obvious reasons.


Posted // January 7,2012 at 17:51 - #TByte: Relinquishing one's parental rights is different from not having custody and it is also different from simply abandoning a child. Either of the parents can do any of these or they can care for their child. Relinquishment is a legal procedure and it is irrevocable. Fathers often relinquish their rights after a divorce when the mother remarries and the step father wants to adopt the child. There is no provision under law for just ONE parent to relinquish their rights in order not to support their child, that's called abandonment. Both parents relinquishments are required in order fora child to be adopted. Sometimes however mothers lie or are told to lie and say they do not know who the father is, then the child is adopted with just the mother's relinquishment (and can be contested). ** A father however cannot claim he doesn't know who the mother is. ** Does that answer your question? Since he does know, he is legally obligated for support unless SHE relinquishes.


Posted // December 29,2010 at 06:51

I wonder if the reason she decided to put the child up for adoption instead of handing her over to her father is because

a} she was unsure who the real father was

b} she could be asked to pay for child maintance

c} with the father from the same town as her she would be bound to run into the child.

im not condoning the adoption at all.. i think he should have the opportunity to a dna test and give the mother the opportunity to sign her rights over to him so that she doesnt have to pay maintance


Posted // January 7,2012 at 17:35 - Andie, please explain why the mother should be allowed to sign her rights away and walk off with no financial responsibility for her child, when we do not allow fathers that same option?


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