Under Utah law, a biological father must file a paternity suit and register with the state before the birth mother relinquishes custody of the baby. The mother cannot relinquish until 24 hours after giving birth. Thus, by statute, biological mothers and fathers are both supposed to have some period of time following the birth of a child to assert or waive their parental rights.
Nikolas Thurnwald learned on the Saturday before Labor Day 2004 that his girlfriend was giving birth prematurely. LDS Family Services took the mother's relinquishment 24 hours later. Because government offices were closed, Thurnwald was not able to file his paternity suit and notice until Tuesday, the next business day. The Supreme Court held that the filings were timely.
Unlike cases in which a biological father shows up long after a baby has been placed, LDS and the adoptive parents knew from the get go that Thurnwald was seeking custody. Rather than accept that hard fact and avoid a risk of traumatizing the child years later, they decided to fight. We can understand the emotion. One of us has a friend who recently adopted. The couple dreaded the possibility that the mother would change her mind following the birth, but they were prepared for it. The same would have been true had the father intervened.
One can argue that Thurnwald should have filed earlier, even if his girlfriend assured him that she was keeping the baby. That may well be true, although the court suggested one potential benefit of waiting:
[T]he Legislature may have intended under the adoption statutes for the unwed father to reach a certain maturity in the decision-making process regarding the care of the child after birth before filing a paternity action. Therefore, the unwed father also has an incentive to wait until he is ready to finally decide what is best for the child before taking the actions required by the adoption statutes.But whether Thurnwald should have acted sooner is not really the point. The law is the law and, frankly, the court's ruling seemed pretty Duh to us. As the court pointed out, LDS could not cite a single case holding that a biological father's rights could be cut off before the birth of a child.
In this case, we hope that the paternity test comes back negative, or he can't show that he provided support during the pregnancy. Otherwise, this 3-year-old football will be taken, screaming and afraid, from his home and handed over to a stranger. If that happens, whose fault will it be?