"Baby Emma"

[deleted account] ( 28 moms have responded )

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/con...



By Jerry Markon

Washington Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, April 14, 2010



John Wyatt raced to the hospital, excited to be a father but worried about the mother.



His girlfriend had promised to call him the moment she went into labor, but she'd turned off her cellphone. Wyatt had been calling it for hours. Finally, an operator at Potomac Hospital in Woodbridge confirmed the news: His girlfriend was there, and his daughter had been born.



When Wyatt arrived at the hospital that morning of Feb. 11, 2009, he got the shock of his 20-year-old life: Administrators insisted that no such baby was there -- and no such mother.



Court records show that Wyatt's daughter, Emma, was born Feb. 10, at that very hospital, and that she spent the next week at two Woodbridge hotels before being put up for adoption -- in Utah. "We just want Emma to come home," says Wyatt's mother, Jeri. "My son wants his child. I want to see my granddaughter."



More than a year later, a cross-country court fight over the child known as "Baby Emma" has yet to settle the question of whether the strawberry-blond, blue-eyed girl was illegitimately taken from her father or legally put up for adoption by her mother, 20-year-old Emily Colleen Fahland, a George Mason University student. The highly unusual dispute pits Virginia against Utah; a Stafford County judge in December awarded Wyatt custody of Emma and cited a federal kidnapping statute in ordering the state to bring her back from Utah.



Virginia officials say they lack the legal authority to follow the judge's order.



In Salt Lake City, a Utah judge issued a competing order granting temporary custody to the adoptive couple in that state, and Emma has been living with them ever since. Attorneys for the couple say Wyatt, of Dumfries, failed to assert his parental rights in time to contest the adoption. His appeal is pending in a Utah court.



"My daughter is being held hostage," says Wyatt, now 21, a D.C. nightclub worker who has never seen Emma. "She was kidnapped and cradle-robbed from me, and I'm baffled that nothing has been done."



The case, which has become the talk of the nation's close-knit circle of adoption lawyers since the Wyatts appeared on the "Dr. Phil" show, is the latest to spotlight Utah adoption laws that experts say are unusually tough on unmarried fathers. Lawyers cite at least 10 recent cases in which babies were taken to or born in Utah and adopted without an out-of-state father's consent.



In one case, the Utah Supreme Court last year ruled in favor of an unwed Wyoming mother who falsely told the father she miscarried, traveled to Utah to deliver the baby girl and put her up for adoption. "Utah risks becoming a magnet for those seeking to unfairly cut off opportunities for biological fathers to assert their rights to connection with their children," Chief Justice Christine Durham wrote in dissent.



Joan Hollinger, a University of California at Berkeley professor and a leading authority on adoption law, called Utah's decisions in the Baby Emma case "outrageous" because Wyatt filed for custody in Virginia just eight days after Emma's birth. Utah laws and court decisions, she said, "make it virtually impossible for an out-of-state father to prevent the adoption of an out-of-wedlock child when the mother is determined to go forward."



Utah is culturally conservative, and lawyers say the powerful Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with its emphasis on family values, has strongly encouraged adoption-friendly laws. "The Utah statutes can be harsh, but they are looking at what's best for the child: stable placements and two-parent families," said David Hardy, a lawyer for LDS Family Services, a Mormon Church-affiliated adoption agency that is among the nation's largest.



Text message disputed



The adoptive couple in Utah, Thomas and Chandra Zarembinski, could not be located, but their attorney, Larry Jenkins, said the experience has been "gut-wrenching" for them. "They're the only parents this child has ever known," said Jenkins, who added that Emma "is doing extremely well."



Emma's birth mother, Fahland, did not return repeated telephone calls. Fahland's attorney, Sharon Fast Gustafson, said Fahland believed at first that adoption "was the right thing for this child. She was single, planning to go to college, and she and the father did not have long-term plans."



In recent months, Fahland has come to regret that decision, Gustafson said. Still friends with Wyatt, Fahland "sees this father who is wishing she hadn't done it," Gustafson said.



Wyatt still remembers Fahland from second grade. They attended Saint William of York Catholic School in Stafford together, and they began dating in seventh grade. The relationship continued, off and on, through high school.



The surprise pregnancy came in May 2008. "She started crying, but I was happy," Wyatt said. "My father died when I was 10, so I've always wanted to be there for my children."



Wyatt argued vehemently against Fahland's decision to put the baby up for adoption. The couple talked of raising the child together and, eventually, getting married, Wyatt said.



On Feb. 5, 2009, Fahland sent Wyatt a text message that has become central in the dispute. Wyatt recalls that Fahland texted him that she was "receiving information" from a Utah adoption agency. He immediately called her, and says she assured him that they would make a decision jointly -- and that she'd alert him the minute she went into labor.



In their final conversation, about 11 hours before the birth, Wyatt says, Fahland vowed they would raise the baby together. Gustafson declined to comment on what Fahland said.



"She did not feel she could give the baby what the baby needed," Gustafson said. "And she didn't think John could either. These are very emotionally charged hours when a baby is born. People are having to work hard to make an immediate decision. She was just thinking about what was best for the baby."



In the Utah courts, Fahland said in an affidavit that she told Wyatt in the Feb. 5 text that she "intended" to put the baby up for adoption in Utah. Jenkins, the Zarembinskis' attorney, said that gave Wyatt time to file a court action in Utah that could have allowed him to contest the adoption. "Frankly, he never did," Jenkins said.



On the morning of Feb. 11, Wyatt awoke early and sensed something was wrong -- Fahland's cellphone had been off throughout the previous day. A few hours later, according to Wyatt and his mother, the switchboard operator at Potomac Hospital identified Fahland as a patient and said she'd delivered a baby girl.



Shocked that hospital administrators later denied that, Wyatt called his mother. She raced to the hospital, too, and threatened to sue when the hospital told her the same thing. "They were hiding this baby from us," Jeri Wyatt said. "They looked us in the eye and said there was no baby or birth mother there."



Charlene Wilkins, a spokeswoman for the hospital -- now called Sentara Potomac Hospital -- declined to comment, citing patient confidentiality and the legal dispute. The hospital has not been sued. In documents given to Wyatt's attorneys during pretrial discovery, Fahland said Emma was born at Potomac Hospital at 11:02 a.m. Feb. 10.



Differing guidelines



Fahland and the baby spent Feb. 11 and 12 at the Fairfield Inn in Woodbridge along with an employee of A Act of Love, the Utah adoption agency, court documents show. Fahland signed the adoption consent forms Feb. 12 in the presence of that employee, Laraine Moon. The agency did not return telephone calls, and it is unclear how or when the agency got involved with Fahland.



Court records show that the Zarembinskis cared for Emma at a hotel in Woodbridge before flying her to Utah.



On Feb. 18, Wyatt sued for custody in Stafford County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. His lawyer had officially learned of the baby from Fahland's lawyer. "I found out I had a daughter through word-of-mouth," Wyatt said.



In his December order granting custody, Judge Gerald F. Daltan said that because Wyatt is Emma's "acknowledged father" and had sought custody five days before the Zarembinskis filed adoption papers in Utah, Emma could not be adopted without his consent. He called Wyatt "a good and decent person" who is fit to raise Emma.



But a judge in Utah granted the Zarembinskis temporary custody in August while the adoption proceeds. And the same judge ruled that Wyatt cannot object to the adoption, partly because he failed to move quickly enough to assert his parental rights under Virginia law -- even though the Virginia judge said he had.



"That's the problem with this case," said Wyatt's Virginia attorney, Stanton Phillips. "Virginia does one thing, and Utah does something else and thumbs its nose at Virginia. Since the child is in Utah, John is really stuck."



The Utah Court of Appeals will hear arguments May 24.



Wyatt continues his fight. That included the appearance on "Dr. Phil" in December. Wyatt's mother started that process by clicking on a link on the show's Web site soliciting viewers with adoption stories to tell. The show contacted her, and she and Wyatt appeared with the Zarembinskis' attorney.



"The only thing that keeps me going," Wyatt said, "is knowing that one day I will get to see and hold my beautiful daughter."

MOST HELPFUL POSTS

Mary - posted on 04/16/2010

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I'm of the same mind as Esther on this. It's not that I think the adoptive parents "deserve" her...their actions in this are less than admirable. However, when I think of this baby, who is now 14 months old, and realize how slowly the court systems work...chances are she'll be closer to two before any firm decision is reached (and then, I'm sure there will be appeals out the ass). Then I think of my own not quite 17 month old. She KNOWS my husband and I...she wakes up in the morning, sees me, and says "Hi, Mommy" followed by "Where Daddy" and "where puppy-Sam?". If it's a morning where my husband has left early, she runs around looking for him in both our office and his bathroom. She knows my parents. My mother just died a week ago, and yesterday, when I took her over there, she ran into the house all excited. She say my dad, and said "Pop-pop!". Next she found the cat and greeted him. After about 10 minutes of walking around the house, she went to my mom's recliner, saying "Gammy?...Gammy read da book?". My mom always sat with with her on her lap and read books to her there.



Now, it breaks my heart, but I know that eventually she will cease to look for my mom, and will not remember her. BUT...she is still with the people she knows, and in an environment she knows and is comfortable with. I cannot imagine moving her hundreds of miles away, and forcing her to live with strangers...that is a cruelty that makes my heart shudder.



It is also the ONLY reason I think the best solution is to let these adoptive parents maintain primary custody. I agree that the only moral, upstanding adult in this whole fiasco is the biological father, and I ache for him. But to me, the needs of this little girl supersede being "right" or fair. Yes, he should be included in her life...and more and more as she ages, and is able to better understand

Joanna - posted on 04/16/2010

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Dana, the reason I said he should "keep his penis in check" is because he had this baby outside of wedlock, which clearly worked against him. Now I'm not saying that's a bad thing, my daughter was born out of wedlock, I'm not against sex before marriage. But obviously the law isn't working in his favor because these two parents were single, and it's harder to judge whether or not the mother had the right to do this, as a single mother. Wow, I'm really bad at explaining that, haha. Don't mind my pregnancy brain.

What I really meant by that comment was, I'm just hoping he's learned how cruel the law can be, and waits until the law recognizes his rights as a married parent until he has more children.

Esther - posted on 04/16/2010

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Yes, I think the father is pretty much blameless in this and I feel terrible for him that his daughter was just taken from him like that when he was so obviously willing to step up and take responsibility for her. The court system failed. They should have resolved this early on and it should have been resolved in favor of the father. My brother was adopted and I fully understand the bond adoptive parents develop with a child. There is no difference in the love my parents have for me (their biological child) vs my brother. It would be devastating to the adoptive parents to have to give up this child now. However, my sympathies still are not with them because they had a choice and they made the wrong one in keeping this baby early on. The biological mother had a choice and she CLEARLY made the wrong one in giving up this child without discussing it with the father and hiding her from him. The only person who had no choice (beyond not having sex outside of marriage) is the only one who tried to do the right thing from the very beginning - namely the father. And yet he's the one who is left empty-handed. The reason I'm siding with the adoptive parents is solely for the child's sake. I think it could be very harmful to her to be taken from the only home she's ever known. That being said, if a child psychologist did an evaluation and told me that there is a way to do it without causing harm to her, I could be persuaded otherwise because the father's rights have been trampled on.

Esther - posted on 04/16/2010

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Well, even though I personally am inclined to leave the baby with the adoptive parents too, the father filed for custody a mere 8 DAYS after his daughter's birth in the state of Virginia. The adoptive parents must have had some knowledge of this at around that time and at 8 days (the first few of which the baby undoubtedly wasn't even with them) the bond is not so strong that it would cancel out the father's rights. I believe the birth mother in all adoptions is given a certain period of time to change her mind so the adoptive parents in any case would have known that that was a risk they took. They should have done the right thing then and given the baby back. A year later the story is different, but the fact remains that the adoptive parents did not make the right choices either at the beginning of this fiasco and they contributed to the debacle. The father on the other hand did do everything right and yet he's the one left without his daughter.

Dana - posted on 04/15/2010

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I agree with much of your post Mary but I think that the father should be the one who has custody and the adoptive parents should have visitation. That baby should have been handed over to him by the adoptive parents when they found out months ago. When that little girl grows up and finds out that her father wanted her....I don't think she'll be too happy with her parents either.

This conversation has been closed to further comments

28 Comments

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Rosie - posted on 04/16/2010

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while i do feel bad for the child, i feel she should be taken away from her adoptive parents and given to her biological father. he has done nothing wrong in this situation. what happens when she is 14 and realizes that her parents kept her from her father who so desperately wanted her? how is she going to feel then? i think that's more important than the feelings that she has now, that she won't even remember later on.

this happened close to where i live a while ago. anybody remember baby jessica? she was 2 before she was returned to the biological parents. i remember in that case the woman gave up the baby without the father knowing, and after a while both of them wanted her back. it's a very heartbreaking situation all around, but ultimately the birthfather should get to have his daughter.

Dana - posted on 04/16/2010

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Yes, he does seem like an upstanding guy. I imagine that sometimes it's easier on the mother to give the baby up fully rather than give the father full custody. It seems like there might be more guilt associated with that, when one parent is there but the other decides not to be.

Esther - posted on 04/16/2010

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According to the article the mom is still friends with the dad and now regrets her decision. I saw the father on the Dr Phil show when that aired and he seemed like a very decent upstanding guy.

Lea - posted on 04/16/2010

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As a mom myself, I would want nothing more for my son than for him to have a relationship with his father. I mean, how many kids get that?? Its so valuable. I could be wrong but if it was me, I would have to have a very good reason to give my kid up and take them away from their father, too. I have to say I trust moms' judgement. She must have had a very good reason. (This is why I am generally pro-choice too - I hate the idea of abortions so I know someone has to have a very good reason in order to go through that).

Dana - posted on 04/16/2010

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Wow, I've got to say, I'm shocked that he should "keep his penis in check until he's married and can have a family, with his wife, who can't legally give his children away". So it's alright for him to be punished because he's not married. I know you can't mean that but that's the way it sounds. Otherwise why the comment of him keeping his penis in check.

Dana - posted on 04/16/2010

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I'm talking about them being phased out to the point of the father having primary custody, not all the way out. That's why I said this. "As much as it sucks to admit, and I'm not suggesting this, the adoptive parents could walk away at a certain point and she'd never remember them."

Joanna - posted on 04/16/2010

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I had my rights terminated I believe it was only 5 or 6 days after I gave birth to my daughter. I'm not sure if it varies state to state though with a certain amount of time.

I mean I Agree to a certain point that fathers should have a right to their children, but this is definitely a tough one. I wish the states could have figured something out sooner, and in a perfect world after 8 days the adoptive parents would have given the child back... But I just wish this biological father could realize that, if he ended up getting custody, him taking this baby away from it's adoptive parents is just as bad as the baby being taken from him. And like I Said, they probably can't have kids and will have to wait a long time before getting a child (if they'd even be able to deal with this tragedy, stay together, and try to get another child), but he... he could respect them, perhaps ask for visitation, and keep his penis in check until he gets married and can have a family, with his wife, who can't legally give his children away.

Joanna - posted on 04/16/2010

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Dana, did you really just suggest "phasing the adoptive parents out"? As a woman who's given a child up for adoption... that is just mind boggling! These people, who probably can't have children on their own, shouldn't be punished by having their legally adopted child "phased out" out of their lives. Sure, it's easy to say that the best thing they could've done was, upon hearing the news of the bio dad wanting the child, give the child back, even if it's only days or weeks with the child, they've already come to bond with and love the little girl. Why put the hurt upon this family?

Dana - posted on 04/16/2010

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I can definitely agree that a child psychologist should be brought it to this. It should all be done with the help of professionals no matter the outcome.

Esther - posted on 04/16/2010

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No, a year old isn't that old but she has established strong bonds with her parents and to lose that I do think would be harmful to the baby. Maybe a child psychologist should do an assessment to determine without any prejudice where the child would be better off and how the father could be phased in or the adoptive parents phased out depending on what is deemed best for the child.

Dana - posted on 04/16/2010

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That's if you think the child's best interest is with the adoptive parents. How could that be though. She's only a year old. There's no reason they couldn't phase the adoptive parents out and the bio dad in slowly. As much as it sucks to admit, and I'm not suggesting this, the adoptive parents could walk away at a certain point and she'd never remember them. A year old isn't that old at all.

Esther - posted on 04/16/2010

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I agree with Mary. There can be no winners here anymore. The grown-ups have all fucked up. The mother is just .... words fail me. The adoptive parents should have given up the baby early on when they first found out about the biological dad. However, they didn't and they've been raising this child for a year now. Although they really shouldn't be rewarded for their choices, I also don't think the child should be punished for it. I think it would be too disruptive to have her leave her home now. The father should definitely get joint custody so he can be a part of any big decisions (schooling, medical issues etc.) and should be granted visitation rights. Since the baby lives in a different state than he does, maybe the birth mother and the adoptive parents should have to foot the bill for his travel expenses. I just think that the childs best interests should come first, even before the father's rights, no matter how horribly wronged he was.

Joanna - posted on 04/15/2010

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It's sad what has happened, it seems like this is a man who just geniunly wanted to raise his child.

Unfortunately someone else has been raising the child for a year now, and I will hope that that family gets to keep the baby... I'd say it'd be even more awful to lose a child you've raised for a year than to lose a child you never saw.

Tah - posted on 04/15/2010

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if she didnt want to raise the baby why not give it to the father,why would you cause all this confusion for the child, father and adoptive parents..this is ridiculous and madness...when you have a good guy trying to take care of his children look what gets done to him....smh

La - posted on 04/15/2010

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I think the bio mom was wrong for not allowing the bio dad the opportunity to have custody of his child and the adoptive parents are wrong for keeping a child that was given to them without full consent. It bothers me to no end that the men who are trying to be GOOD FATHERS are always screwed over. No wonder why so many men give up on trying to assert their parental rights- because they get shut down by the courts anyways.

Lisamarie - posted on 04/15/2010

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That's a very good point, Dana! I think if that was me I'd resent everybody who kept me from my biological family.

Mary - posted on 04/15/2010

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Well, at this point, the biggest loser in all of this going to be that child. Sadly, she has now been with this adoptive couple for over a year. These are the only parents she has ever known, and by now, she is calling them "Mommy and Daddy".

I agree that the biological father's rights were completely disregarded in this case. That child should NEVER have been sent to Utah with that couple...and shame on all of the lawyers and judges involved in this from the beginning who allowed it to happen. They should have seen that this was an untenable situation that would only end up hurting Baby Emma in the long run. I doubt that this father will ever give up...he is young, and has never truly had a child before, so he does not truly understand that a "good" parent's love for their child is selfless. He is thinking of his own needs and wants at this point, and not about what is best for Emma. I do not blame him; this is not a situation of his making. He should have had her in the first place, but now, with so much time elapsed, it would be almost a sin to rip this innocent baby from the people whom she calls Mommy and Daddy.

Now, I think this adoptive couple is pretty lacking as well. Obviously, they let their hearts do the thinking instead of their heads. I'm sure that thier desperation and longing for a child clouded their judgement. One of the scariest things about adopting a child at birth is knowing that it could all blow up if a biological parent has a change of heart...it happens often, and is a big reason why so many people opt for international adoptions in poorer countries. There is less liklihood of having the child taken aways from you in favor of a birth parent. Why these people went through with this, knowing that they died NOT have any type of consent from the birth father is beyond me. I have little sympathy for them - they left themselves wide open for this nightmare.

My guess is that bio-mom was not exactly forthcoming with all of the detatils, but any prudent adoptive parent AND their lawyer would have dug a little deeper and addressed this. I'm sure this girl was in a panic, and overwhelmed and overwrought. HOwever, this whole disaster is truly of her making. SHe has screwed up the lives of so many people...especially that of her daughter.

No matter what is determined, my guess is that there will be no real winners here...and I cannot begin to think of a solution that would be "good". At this point, the best thing for Baby Emma would be to leave her with the adoptive parents, but they will have to work out some type of custody/vsitiation with her biological father. No, it's not fair to him, but, sometimes, life is not fair.

Jess - posted on 04/15/2010

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I saw this on Dr Phil, it broke my heart. This guy did everything right and yet he still doesn't have his daughter back. I think the adoptive parents are just as much to blame as the biological mother. They know her father is out there and wants her, they know that baby was taken illegally from him and yet they still won't give her back. Its like climbing into someone's window and stealing their baby.



I hope this guys gets his daughter back and soon !

Lisamarie - posted on 04/15/2010

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This really makes me sick! I hate that men don't get a say in what happens to their baby! I get that it's the womans body and all but this guy is willing to step up and take care of his child, where many men wouldn't.
She was mature enough to spread her legs for him, deal with the consequences!

Sharon - posted on 04/14/2010

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omg what a mess.

the girlfriend is a stupid weak minded whore.. Honest to god who does that kind of shit?

I think, sadly, John needs to step back and leave the baby where she is and watch where he puts his dick from now. Dumbass. If he had been married or in a more committed relationship this would NEVER have happened.

[deleted account]

What do you guys think? I still have to reel in my shock over something like this actually happening and the courts doing NOTHING for this desperate father, so I will post more later, but I wanted to get this up and ask your opinions...

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