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Hard-fought custody battle nears an end

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Courts: Local dad wins crucial court decision in Utah

By Whitney Jones

After a four-year child custody battle, a local father is one step closer to gaining custody of his daughter.

The Utah Supreme Court rendered an opinion earlier this year giving Los Alamos resident Robert Manzanares the green light to pursue custody of his daughter reversing an earlier district court ruling denying him from his parental rights to the child.

“I’ve come a long way and spent a lot of money to get to this point and the end result is that my daughter and I will be together - I have no doubt about that,” Manzanares said.

The high court’s opinion tells the following story: Manzanares had been fighting to gain custody of the child ever since his then-girlfriend Carie Terry became pregnant in the summer of 2007 in Colorado. But before the baby was born, Terry informed Manzanares that she intended to visit Utah to see her ailing father.  

“The purported purpose of the trip soon took a turn in a different direction,” the opinion states. “On February 16, 2008, Terry‘s brother and sister-in-law, Brandon and Julissa Byington, signed a petition for the adoption of Terry’s baby in Utah.

While in Utah, Terry gave birth to the child on Feb. 17, approximately six weeks premature. Two days later, the Byingtons filed their adoption petition.

And further complicating the matter was a Utah state law stating that an unmarried biological father’s consent to the adoption of his child who is six months old or younger is not required.

Meanwhile, Manzanares, an employee at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, alleges he had no knowledge of these developments and was anticipating Terry’s return to Colorado.

The high court determined that because Manzanares “did not know” or “could not have known” of Terry’s intentions, he did not forfeit his parental rights.

“My rights are not terminated,” Manzanares said calling Utah’s laws on paternal rights unfair and unfavorable to unwed fathers.

But the battle isn’t over yet. Manzanares still faces two more hurdles.

The high court’s decision has been remanded back to the district court, which will determine if Manzanares had completed the proper procedures for custody in Colorado such as filing for paternity, paying child support and filing an injunction to an adoption in the state. Once that decision is made a custody battle will take place in Colorado between Terry and Manzanares to determine which parent the girl will live with. He said the Byingtons have already filed an injunction as a third party to that hearing.

Manzanares said that process could take anywhere from two days to six months.

Terry’s attorney David Hardy provided a formal statement on behalf of his client: “Four years ago when (Terry) made her decision, she was in the first position to determine the best interest of her child,” he wrote. “She knew the child would be best served and her needs would be satisfied by having two parents in a stable and peaceful home. This has proved to be true and she opposes any disruption of the adoptive placement. Vilification of the circumstances and the people involved will not help the child, who benefits most from adoption. It is her hope that in future legal proceedings and in the attention given to this case, the focus will be on what is best for the child and her needs.”

Should Manzanares gain custody, he said he would like to transition his daughter from her Utah home with the Byingtons to his home in Los Alamos with his fiancé and infant son.    

“My goal is not to rip her out of her home,” he said. “I want her to get to know me.”
Manzanares said he’s only met his daughter once before when she was 10-months-old, and that the transition process would likely begin with daytime visits then overnight stays eventually leading up to full custody.

He said it would be in the best interest of his daughter to transition her custody as soon as the case is settled rather than for her to find out later in life that her mother tried to give her up for adoption while she had a father who fought for her custody.

“It was never her fault. She’s the innocent party,” he said. “I can’t allow and won’t allow anybody else to raise my child.”