John Wyatt flew to Utah to appear before the Utah Supreme Court Thursday in hopes of dissolving the adoption of his child to a Utah family, which he always opposed.
Wyatt, 22, of Dumphries, Virg., was featured in City Weekly's July cover story, “Some Call It Kidnapping.” He and several unmarried fathers from across the country are angry at Utah adoption laws they say unfairly cut them off from raising their own children. Several adoption experts in Utah and elsewhere say that Utah's laws most readily eliminate an unmarried father's rights to his child.
At issue in his Supreme Court hearing are conflicting rulings from Utah and Virginia courts. Virginia has issued a final ruling that Wyatt should have custody of baby Emma; Utah courts, thus far, have found in favor of the adoptive family. “What we're shooting for is [for the Supreme Court to rule] that Utah doesn't have jurisdiction … and any future proceedings should happen in Virginia,” Wyatt's attorney Joshua Peterman said after the hearing.
Wyatt's legal complaint cites the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, which determines proper jurisdiction for parental custody cases. Whether that law applies to Wyatt's case is one issue to be decided by the Utah Supreme Court. A decision could come at any time, but is likely to take several months.
After his court hearing, City Weekly accompanied Wyatt to his next appointment: A special delivery of a stuffed animal, balloon and card, delivered to the Canyon Rim home where his biological daughter—19 months old—now lives.
“I'm going to the see the Zarembinskis, the kidnappers who have my child,” Wyatt said. “But I'm not sure if they're going to let me see her.”
He said that with some irony, knowing they almost certainly would not. The two-state court battle Wyatt has lodged has continued alongside the national media campaign that Wyatt—and other fathers who support him—have coordinated to change Utah's laws. He's been their star: Wyatt has appeared on on The Dr. Phil Show, was featured in the Washington Post, and after many months of feeling ignored by Utah's media, Wyatt is pleased his case has now been featured on television and both daily newspapers (see here, here, here, here and here). Dateline NBC also accompanied Wyatt on his visit to the Zarembinskis' home for a future program.
Before driving to the Zarembinskis' home, Wyatt stopped at the Flower Patch near the Matheson Courthouse where the Supreme Court hearing occurred. He was accompanied by his mother, Jeri Wyatt, and friend Tanya O'Dea of Wyoming, whose husband, Cody O'Dea, also battled Utah adoption laws for his child from a previous relationship, but lost in a 3-2 decision (pdf) before the Utah Supreme Court in 2009.
Wyatt picked out a pink stuffed elephant and pink balloon with the words “I Love You” on it. He wrote the name “Emma” in big letters on the card. “Did you know they changed her name to Gabrielle?” Jeri Wyatt asked. “[Writing Emma on the card] will make them mad.”
With a dog barking from the backyard of the Zarembinski's home, Wyatt took his gift package to the front door, knocked several times, but no one answered. He left the package on the porch, but wasn't finished.
“Somebody's got to have answers,” O'Dea said. “Just start knocking on everybody's door. I would.” O'Dea said information provided by neighbors could help Wyatt contact his daughter—if he loses in court—when she turns 18 and may wish to know her biological parents. A recent picture, for example, could be put on the Internet and help lead the child to find Wyatt, O'Dea said.
Wyatt knocked on several neighbors' doors. One neighbor told him both Zarembinskis work and often her grandparents watch her. That was all he learned.
The Wyatts returned to Virginia Thursday. Soon, Wyatt will urge a Virginia court to find the Zarembinskis in contempt for not returning his child to him.
The Zarembinskis were unable to be reached for comment. They did not appear in court and their previous phone number has been disconnected.
“I wish John would have been able to see his child,” Jeri Wyatt said. “I think it's really sad that he's got this child he's never seen and nobody will let him see her. … I would love to see my granddaughter. We love her.”
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Fri., April 24, 2-4:30 p.m.