Because the mother did not precisely follow Utah statutory requirements of parental notice of adoption, an unwed father has gained another opportunity to contest the adoption of his child, even though the adoption has already taken place.
In a recent unanimous 5-0 Utah Supreme Court decision, the court ruled that the father, Philip J. James, did not receive proper notice of the mother's intent to place his child for adoption because of the wrong use of one little word: “may” instead of “will.” Utah’s statute requiring pre birth notice of adoption to a biological father requires that he be informed about the intention to place the child for adoption and the actions he needed to take within 30 days to preserve his right to contest the adoption. The district court found that James did not take the required actions and thus failed to preserve any right to contest the adoption. James appealed to the Utah Supreme Court, arguing that the “Notice did not comply with the statute because it only informed him that he “may,” rather than “shall” lose his parental rights if he did not take the required steps within thirty days,” as stated in the court order.
The court agreed, pointing out that “the notice did not inform James that his right to withhold consent to Child's adoption “is irrevocably lost” if he fails to comply with the Pre Birth Notice Statute. Nor did it tell him that by failing to comply, he “will lose the ability to assert the right to contest any future adoption” and that he “will lose” the right to notice of the adoption. Rather, the Notice listed the steps that the Statute requires of birth fathers and then stated, “If you do not take these steps within 30 days of receiving this notice you may lose all rights relating to [Child]. This includes the right to consent or to withhold your consent to the adoption.”