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This week, Los Alamos resident Robert Manzanares filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Utah in hopes of getting Utah’s adoption laws declared unconstitutional. He joins the group with 11 other men who feel their rights as single fathers have been violated by the state of Utah.
The group is also asking for no less than $250 million in damages.
Manzanares’ own struggles with Utah came to national light several years ago, when his pregnant girlfriend told Manzanares she was going to Utah to visit her father. She went to Utah, had her baby, then immediately gave it up for adoption to her brother without Manzanares’ advice or consent.
According to Utah’s adoption laws, an unmarried biological father’s permission is not needed if the child is six months old or younger.
He’s been fighting to get full custody of her ever since, fighting custody cases in Colorado (where his daughter was conceived) and Utah since 2007. His daughter will be 6-years-old soon.
His plan, if and when the custody courts rule in his favor, is to gradually transition her into his home, which he shares with his fiancee, Pennie Gould, as well as their two daughters and young son.
He said he’s currently awaiting a decision out of Colorado for full custody rights, and that decision “could happen any day now.”
As for the federal lawsuit, Manzanares said he filed it for one reason and one reason only, to overturn laws he feels are unfair to unwed fathers and their children.
“I decided to become involved because of what the state of Utah has done to so many fathers and so many children. That’s why I became involved,” he said.
Manzanares knows many of the other plaintiffs in the suit, just because they’ve suffered through the same experiences and have crossed paths as their stories made it onto Facebook or into the local and national media. Manzanares himself has appeared on the “Ricki Lake Show” as well as in other news media outlets explaining his case.
“We’ve built bonds has we’ve gone through the same thing, fighting for our children as the state of Utah proceeded to strip us of our right to be with our children. I’ve probably personably bonded with 10 of the 12 fathers on this lawsuit,” he said. “We’re a kind of band of brothers fighting for the same thing. When we get a win we all stand beside each other to assist the other father as much as possible, and when we lose we are there to help each other as well.”
According to Manzanares, there will probably be other fathers joining the landmark suit as well as publicity of the suit spreads.
“We aren’t the only 12 fathers who have lost rights to their children,” he said.
The lawsuit specifically takes aim at Mark L. Shurtleff, Utah’s attorney general from 2001 through 2013 and John E. Swallow, who succeeded Shurtleff as attorney general in 2013. He later resigned that year following an in house investigative report into unethical behavior in matters unrelated to Manzanares’ case.
“In spite of promises by Shurtleff, later endorsed by Swallow, even though they had received numerous written notifications of gross adoption infirmities in Utah, they have done nothing for more than a decade to correct the fraud and deception that has consequently led to the unlawful and 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,” said a statement in the lawsuit.
Manzanares explained the lawsuit in simpler terms.
“I think the number one aim is to overturn these adoption laws, so no other children or fathers have to endure this,” he said.
“Number two, is to make them responsible for something we can’t put a price on. I can’t put a price on seeing her first smile, her first step, saying her first word… you can’t compensate for those damages. Third, she’s missed those opportunities to be with me, to be brought up under my care. I just want to see what Utah is doing, stop.”
Manzanares has set up a website detailing his struggle at illegaladoption.com