By Jennifer Dobner
SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - A dozen men whose biological children were placed for adoption in Utah without their consent have sued the state in federal court, claiming its tangled network of rules unconstitutionally strip them of their parental rights.
The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday in U.S. district court in Salt Lake City, said Utah's adoption law creates a "confusing labyrinth of virtually incomprehensible legal mandates and impossible deadlines."
Those rules have resulted in the "unconstitutional removal of children from their biological families, essentially resulting in their kidnapping and highly unethical and disruptive placement into adoptive homes without the knowledge or consent of their biological fathers," the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit follows a high profile legal battle last year in which a Native American father from Oklahoma lost custody of his daughter, known as Baby Veronica, to a South Carolina adoptive couple selected by the girl's biological mother.
The men in the Utah case are seeking unspecified monetary damages, saying Utah's rules violate a biological father's right to due process and equal protection.
Their biological children - six boys and six girls - were born in Utah between June 2006 and November 2012, court documents show. None of the men married the mothers of their children.
Each tried to stop his child from being adopted, with mixed results, the men's attorney, Wesley Hutchins, said in an interview. Two were able to prove paternity in time to block an adoption, and a third had his child's adoption overturned by the Utah Supreme Court, he said.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the state, the Attorney General's office and former attorneys general John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff. A telephone call to the Attorney General's Office was not immediately returned on Thursday.
NO LEGAL CONSENT
Under Utah's law, a child aged six months or less can be adopted without the legal consent of an unmarried biological father unless the man has already initiated a petition to establish paternity.
To do so, a father must prove he is financially able to support the mother during pregnancy, able and willing to assume custody of the child and prove that he can support the child financially.
Biological mothers and adoption agencies have essentially exploited that aspect of the law and ignored provisions that say the "rights and interests of all parties" affected by an adoption must be considered, the lawsuit contends.
"The majority, if not all, of the illegal adoptions accomplished in Utah are ostensibly given a stamp of judicial approval through an adoption process that has effectively legalized fraud and kidnapping," the lawsuit states.
Hutchins said Utah's adoption statute also includes so-called "fraud immunity laws," which he said have turned the state into a "stop and drop" place for unwed mothers who want to put their newborns up for adoption without the consent of the fathers, Hutchins said.
Of the men who sued, just two are from Utah, while the remainder hail from other states.
Hutchins said he believes 300 or more men may have been affected by Utah's law and said he was considering seeking a class action certification of the lawsuit.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Steve Orlofsky)