Sneaking Off To Utah


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

Related Post Roulette

37 Responses

  1. Avatar zic says:


    You don’t want that woman to have an abortions; you don’t want her to abrogate the father’s rights; so what do you want? Purity standards? That’s where the whole sneaking culture comes from.

    As to Utah’s laws, I can only imagine they arise from a culture of purity standards; extramarital sex is not approved, but abortion is also not approved. Perhaps this is an out for men who are married and sire a child outside the bonds of marriage. Perhaps some of those fathers (or extended family) adopt their own children; a way to bring legitimacy to illegitimate children?Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to zic says:

      This is a very ungenerous reading of Will’s post. Even if all you right above is true, I fail to see why a father should have to suffer for the sin’s of past men. You are also projecting your own beliefs on this subject to all women. A substantial plurality is in agreement with you but not every woman is.

      If a woman carries her pregnancy to term and a man knows that he is the father of the child and wants to play a part in the child’s life than the law should offer some protections. Without some exceptional circumstances, a woman should not be allowed to shut the father out.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I just think sneaking has too many connotations for this discussion; it carries far too many nuances of her hiding something on a topic that already roots deeply in shame and shaming.

        What about the reasons a woman might not feel comfortable revealing a pregnancy to the father? Some might be sneaking. Others might include safety; either hers or the child’s.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to LeeEsq says:

        What about the reasons a woman might not feel comfortable revealing a pregnancy to the father?

        Everything rides on whether one views this category (let’s amend it to “good” reasons that we should agree override the interest of the father in fatherhood) as capacious, and as having forgiving, welcoming, or even encouraging standards for inclusion – or as limited, and having exacting standards for inclusion. Because I think everyone would agree that there are, out there, at least some cases in which not revealing paternity will be justifiable for some women. The question is whether we are inclined to defer to women who seek to make this choice in a large majority of instances, or whether we are inclined to interrogate (not literally – but “wonder about”) her reasons a bit (or a lot) before conceding that the choice is justified (and hence should be supported with reasonable social action to help her carry it out) – or whether we are somewhere in between those (and then, where?).Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq says:

        It should be noted that in most of the cases, the fathers did know about the pregnancy. It was the adoption and Utah that they didn’t know about.

        In cases where a father doesn’t actually know, he has less of my sympathy. I wouldn’t actively strip him of his paternal rights, but it’s a complicated situation at least partially of his own making unless there is a good reason for him not to know (she went to Utah before she started to show, she was heavy to begin with, etc.).

        But in the cases I’ve read about, the pregnancy was not a secret. Really, in my view, all Utah needs to do here is add residency requirements (which they did, but not enough) and simplify the paternal registry. They do that, and I think I’m satisfied.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to zic says:

      If a woman goes from Pennsylvania to Utah to give birth to prevent the father from being able to assert his rights, I think the word sneaking is fair.

      I don’t have a problem with a mother putting a child up for adoption with the father’s consent. Otherwise, I think she should have the right to give the child to the father and saying “He/she is yours. I’m done.” and being able to relinquish all responsibilities (and rights) to the child.

      Without good reason, I don’t think she should give birth to the child in secret and/or lie about paternity in order to bypass the father.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to zic says:

      And the only people I (imlicitly) warned against having sex in this post are men.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Will Truman says:

        @will-truman I did not suggest that this is a problem of men failing to control their reproduction; I do think the term sneaking ignores the complex reasons a woman might not want to let a specific man know he sired her child; physical abuse, drug abuse, or sexual abuse are potentially involved.

        My family supports an orphanage in Mexico filled with children who cannot be adopted because of these reasons (Mexico requires the father’s consent, if he’s living). It’s not a simple thing, and father’s rights, while important, are not the only consideration. Sneaking — which is what I objected to as a descriptor of women giving up children without the father’s consent — places blame on her without much consideration of why she might make that choice.

        Maybe sometimes she is sneaking.

        Maybe she’s making a rational choice given the circumstances.Report

      • I didn’t say you did. I said I did, which I mention in response to your suggestion that I am holding women to a purity standard by saying it’s not kosher to do what the women in the article did.

        The moral calculus changes if we assume the father is abusive. We can change all kinds of things by assuming the worst of the fathers.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Will Truman says:

        do the kids work, or are you paying so they don’t need to?Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Will Truman says:

        @kimmi the kids work; the orphanage teaches them trades, (electronics repair, hotel and restaurant admin., etc.) and when they’re older, they work; all work there raising food and helping to care for each other. We support their efforts in numbers of ways, but mostly contribute to help with health care and education needs. My fil purchased a school bus for them which allowed them to bring young children who’s families live in dumps to the school and back to their families each day for education, showers, and food, medical care as well.Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I suspect that some mothers might not entirely trust the fathers of their children to raise their children alone.

    They may or may not be right but if a pregnancy is brought to term than the presumptive father should have some legal protections invested in the child. A woman should have absolute control over her own body and pregnancy. After birth, the control is less absolute.Report

  3. Avatar Kimmi says:

    “In the alternative to women sneaking off to Utah, I would support women being able to sign off all parental rights and responsibilities to the father. It would be a right that men don’t have, but that’s a double standard I can live with. She carried the child to term, and did her part.”

    Can we stop a moment, and think about a harpy of a woman? Getting pregnant to a guy she was about to break up with (possibly while telling him she was on birth control), sticking him with a baby for 18 years, and basically getting away scot free.

    I’d be okay with some amount of “reduced responsibility” under the “you just bore a baby. ow” provision.

    But getting away scot free is … probably a bad idea.Report

    • Avatar morat20 in reply to Kimmi says:

      With parental rights comes…child support.

      A father signs away his parental rights? He’s on the hook for child support unless the baby is put up for adoption. So, ergo, if a mother signs away her parental rights to the father SHE’S on the hook for child support unless the father puts the baby up for adoption.

      In the end, I bet a lot of the reasoning boils down to “money”. Someone ain’t paying child support, but won’t sign off on adoption? Probably not exactly an uncommon problem.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to morat20 says:

        This is an area where I support a double standard, which is what I was getting at with paragraph 3 after the blockquote. It wouldn’t eliminate the problem, but might alleviate it a bit.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to morat20 says:

        I’m not entirely sure this is the case.

        I know that if you are a sperm donor who has never met the carrying mother that you can be asked to pay child support in the future — even if you have a signed contract from the woman and the service provider that you will not be held financially liable. I also know that if you are an underage boy and are molested, you can be financially liable for child support once you turn 18 years of age. In both of these case, I believe, you can be held liable for debt incurred prior to judgement. Both of these instances have held up on federal court level.

        So I’m not convinced that the Utah’s law actually prevents a biological father from being held financially liable.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to morat20 says:

        Yeah, sorry, if I have to responsibilities, I damn well better get the rights.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to morat20 says:

        It’s unlikely that if you are a sperms donor who had never met the mother that you would have to pay child support because the sperms donors that do have to pay it are ones that made private arrangements (and therefore met the mother). The only donors I’ve ever read having to pay child support have fallen into that category.

        I’ve never heard of adoptive parents getting child support payments. You can be made to pay if the child is in foster care or state housing.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to morat20 says:

        I should add that in many states, including Utah, I believe, marital status matters a great deal when it comes to paternity. Of you’re married, you’re the father by default. If you’re not, the mother decides. As in, even if you’ve been together for years and you donated the sperm, you do not have any automatic rights.

        Which I think is actually close to right, but not quite. Brings us back to the paternity registry.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to morat20 says:

        My coblogger at Hit Coffee (a family lawyer) has reported cases where non-biological father’s have been declared the father by courts and have to pay child support but since they are not the biological father have their visitation or custodial rights challenged, which almost sounds like an MRA fantasy.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to morat20 says:


        That’s fascinating. Presumably these men are seeking partial custody or visitation with children they know are not biologically theirs (though they have come to be attached to them as parents), and so aren’t challenging paternity? At which point custody is denied but financial responsibility si maintained? Or can a marriage actually defeat a paternity test? And what is the test to distinguish this situation from step-parenthood?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to morat20 says:

        Step-parents can be held financially liable if they meet certain criteria. One of which is usually something along the lines of “holding themselves out as the parent.” Basically, if they tell others that they are the parent, and act like a parent, they can legally become the parent (if there is a vacancy). Also, and I know someone who learned this the hard way, if you start sending your ex-wife checks to care for kids, you can’t necessarily stop.

        Most of the time, from what I gather, the rights and responsibilities go together. Paternity can be challenged here, and if the findings are this than his rights and responsibilities are that. Sometimes a non-biological father who can prove that he isn’t the father can still be forced to pay child support (the law used to be really bad in this area, in some states, back in the 90’s, you could even demonstrate that you didn’t know the mother and it wouldn’t matter). But at least theoretically, he would either gain or maintain parental rights accordingly.

        Sometimes, apparently, the cracks get slipped through. Maybe different judges reaching different conclusions.

        What I don’t know about the fathers in these cases is that it’s possible that they did initially challenge paternity, but once the courts determined that they had to pay child support whether they were biologically the parents or not they decided to make the most of it (only to find out that they couldn’t).Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers in reply to morat20 says:


        I know that if you are a sperm donor who has never met the carrying mother that you can be asked to pay child support in the future — even if you have a signed contract from the woman and the service provider that you will not be held financially liable.

        IANAL, but I don’t think this is correct, at least in the US. Otherwise sperm banks would dry up.Report

  4. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I wonder if this law has more to do with protecting couples that adopt internationally via agencies than domestic arrangements. A few years ago This American Life and NPR did a show about how many international adoption agencies deceive or pressure families into giving up children for adoption. These deceptions range from the borderline to the outright criminal and I believe some of the agencies have gotten into legal trouble abroad. IIRC Mormon and evangelical families are likely adoptive parents and the agencies are often Mormon or Evangelical. My view is that the agencies had some views that the left would consider outdated and colonialist about it being simply better for the children to be raised by White, Christian families instead of their own in their native countries.Report

  5. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    I find myself wondering exactly how the state of Utah defines “unwed mother.”

    If a married couple in Oregon who was expecting a child got divorced before the baby came to term, would the mother be allowed to go to Utah and have her sister and brother-in-law adopt the child (as the woman from the article did), thus negating the father’s ability to use the court as a mechanism for custody or joint custody?

    (For that matter, there seems to be no mention in the article that the law applies to newborn only children. If a man and a woman have been living together and have a five year old, could a mother use the above scenario as a way to achieve similar outcomes?)Report

  6. Avatar Johanna says:

    I get that there may be reasons one parent may want to deceive the other but NO just NO. If there is a parent or kin who are able and willing to care for a child when the other is not interested or able to do so, what moral and ethical rationale supports stripping a parent of their rights to their own child without offering that parent due process?

    The reason these cases are in the news is because biological fathers are finding themselves in years long battles for the right to raise their own children, children they have been deceived into losing often with the help of opportunistic adoption agencies. We are not talking about disinterested fathers, they of course don’t care. We are dealing with those who are and the idea that the law does not support them is appalling.

    Women only seem to lose when they terminate their rights to the father. If they wish to single-parent they are not reviled and if they put their child up for adoption are held to high esteem as being selfless. Fathers who terminate their rights to the mother are ignored, and often lowered to be called merely a “sperm donor” but if they want to single parent or dispute an adoption they are considered selfish. This needs to stop being the case.

    The cases being heard are not about abuse so lets not make that the conversation and lets not condone bad laws which punish fathers because laws to protect mothers and children aren’t working. Adoption should be for children that truly need families and not for spiriting them away from non-perfect ones for adults who want them. These type of adoption policies are what is creating this clusterf***k in the courts between interested biological families fighting with strangers to parent their own children while thousands of kids languish in foster care hoping for permanent homes. Ethical adoption in cases where all parties agree can work, adoption through deception doesn’t.Report

  7. Avatar DavidTC says:

    I actually think, in this day and age, there’s very little justification for fathers to *not* be identified. That basically should be the default, and if the father does not wish to be identified, he needs to be identified so he can then requested to be unidentified.

    If a father *hasn’t* ever been identified, the courts shouldn’t the mother do things that require the consent of the father, like giving the child up for adoption. (This would not fix the problem of the *wrong* father being identified, but one step at a time.)

    And, as an aside, @zic is completely wrong here. If the father is unfit to be a parent for various reason, the way to do that is to not just leave them off the birth certificate. That only helps if the child *is* given up for adoption, but does nothing to help to the much more common situation of, you know, that *not* happening. If they aren’t given up for adoption, and the father shows up two years later with a paternity test, well, that was utterly pointless as a plan. So I’m a little confused as to why zic is defending it.

    And, incidentally, if we actually want to solve the problem of ‘one parent being unfit and the other knowing it’, we should probably pick a gender neutral solution…if the solution is that women, at birth, can just unilaterally remove the father from their kid’s life, we’re making an awful lot of assumptions about how men are always the ‘unfit’ one. Women can be abusive too, and I don’t think they should get away with not even informing anyone because *they* get to fill out ‘father’s name’ on the birth certificate.

    A much more logical solution here would be some sort of ‘I am having a child with this other person, and I do not think they would be a good parent.’ method of informing the government. (If we were clever, this would *always* involve investigating *both* parents, regardless of which said what.)Report