Archive for the 'Contested Adoption' Category

New Development in the Baby Emma Case

The Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that the father in the Baby Emma case can sue for interference with parental rights.

As you may remember, (if you don’t remember, you can read about it here), Baby Emma’s birth mother sent her to Utah to be adopted without notifying the birth father and getting his legal consent. Although the birth father, John Wyatt, timely filed for custody of Emma and was granted custody by a Virginia court, the state of Utah granted custody to an adoptive family. Wyatt has been trying ever since to get Emma back.

Wyatt sued the adoption agency, an agency employee, the adoptive parents, and attorneys in both Virginia and Utah for wrongful interference with his parental rights. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia asked the Virginia Supreme Court to settle the question of whether interference with parental rights is a tort (i.e., can you sue for that?) and if so, what the elements and burdens of proof are (i.e. what do you need to win that lawsuit?).

In an unusually passionate opinion, the majority of the court noted that

“It is both astonishing and profoundly disturbing that in this case, a biological mother and her parents, with the aid of two licensed attorneys and an adoption agency, could intentionally act to prevent a biological father — who is in no way alleged to be an unfit parent — from legally establishing his parental rights and gaining custody of a child whom the mother did not want to keep, and that this father would have no recourse in the law.”

The court also said that the defendants went to “great lengths to disguise their agenda from the biological father, including preventing notice of his daughter’s birth and hiding their intent to have an immediate out-of-state adoption, in order to prevent the legal establishment of his own parental rights.”

I’m happy that the court granted protection to fathers, whose rights are too frequently not taken as seriously as those of mothers in adoption cases. However, it’s hard to be happy about anything in this terribly sad case. I fervently hope that once the courts have decided the issues surrounding Baby Emma (now nearly three years old!), that the birth parents and adoptive parents can sit down and make some decisions that protect an innocent child’s best interests.

You can read the court’s opinion here. What do you think about this case? Chime in using the comments or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

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