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Five years ago, when they were living in Colorado, Robert Manzanares’ ex-girlfriend left Colorado and went to Utah and gave birth to their daughter.
Then, apparently without his knowledge, she put the baby up for adoption to her brother’s Utah-based family. According to Utah state law, an unmarried father’s consent to adoption is not required if the child is six-months-old or younger.
Ever since that time, Manzanares, a Los Alamos resident, has been waging a long and complicated legal battle to get the Utah and Colorado courts to recognize his rights as a father and a parent. Manzanares has made steady progress in reclaiming his rights, but it has not been easy. Something or someone always seems to step in between him and his daughter.
The most recent obstacle has been a move made by the adoptive parents. Manzanares said they abruptly broke a court-based agreement that allowed him temporary visitation rights. due to the fact the Utah Supreme Court reversed an earlier district court decision that prevented Manzanares from pursuing visitation rights to the child.
“... And things have gotten even crazier,” he said in an interview with the Los Alamos Monitor. “The family’s attorney and the mother’s attorney have since resigned, because they want nothing to do with this.”
Manzanares, an employee at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said he has another court date in Colorado March 8 to re-establish his rights to see his daughter. Once his visitation rights are re-established, then that should lead to a hearing where a more permanent resolution will be worked out, he said.
He said his ultimate goal is to achieve primary visitation rights, which means his daughter will join him here in Los Alamos. Whatever happens, though, his ultimate goal is to do what’s best for his daughter.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get full custody of her,” Manzanares said. “I do believe I have a strong argument for primary custody of her, but I also think it’s not in her best interest to stop her relationship with the only family she’s ever known up to this point. I think it’s in everyone’s best interest to work together as co-parents and as family to my daughter so we are not hurting her any further.”
Manzanares’ Colorado attorney, Michael Cheroutes, is confident his client will succeed in his goal to get his daughter back.
“I think he will be satisfied with the result,” he said. “If you define his goals in all this, he just wants the same sort of rights, opportunities and responsibilities that any father would have, and he’s going to get that.”
Manzanares’ fight for his daughter has garnered national attention in the media as well as put a spotlight on the rights of fathers in similar situations. He recently taped a segment for the “Ricki Lake Show” that will appear next month. He’s also started a website called illegaladoption.com, which he hopes will help other fathers in the same situation.
The spotlight that Manzanares has brought to the issue has been so great that Utah legislators have started a bill to protect fathers in similar situations, a law Cheroutes said is way past due.
“As it stands now, the burden is on the father; he has to file a paternity case in order to put the Utah courts on notice that there’s a father out there,” he said. “Otherwise, if mother files an adoption case and just doesn’t mention father, they are going to proceed with the adoption and the courts are saying that’s fine because father didn’t put us on notice.”
The battle has been at times difficult and unpleasant, Manzanares is proud of the legal reforms and attention his case has brought.
“It’s opened a lot of eyes about what’s happening in Utah,” he said. It’s also given me the opportunity to help other fathers out and to give advice and support to them.”
He said he’d also gladly go through it again for personal reasons as well.
“It’s cost me over $200,000 in attorney’s fees, but I’d gladly do it again for anyone of my children,” Manzanares said. “They are my kids, and there’s nothing a good parent wouldn’t do for their biological child.”