A Utah judge just ordered an adoptive family to return a now 21-month old girl they adopted from a married woman who did not tell her husband she gave birth and gave away their child for adoption.
In this bizarre case, the mom Tira Bland, told a Utah adoption agency she was scared her struggling marriage back in 2012 would not last and did not want the baby if the marriage failed. She then put down a false address for her estranged husband to ensure the agency wouldn't be able to reach him immediately and the agency then failed to do everything in its power to track him down in order to let the adoption go forward. The agency informed the adoptive parents, Jared and Kristi Frei, who already had 5 children, that if the father ultimately discovered the daughter exists, he could come to reclaim his rights to his blood child.
The dad, Terry Achne, a South Carolina drill instructor did find out and when he claimed his parental rights faced opposition and had to take the case to court.
Achne said his wife suggested an abortion or giving up the baby for adoption, but suggested they keep the baby and work on the marriage. He said he left for a job assignment thinking he'd return a dad. His wife had a premature baby, gave it up for adoption and cut all ties to her husband. Achne was only able to find out what happened by tracking down his ex-wife's family.
And because the baby was conceived within matrimony, the Freis had to go to court to retain the baby and not give her back to dad. They are planning to appeal the decision and have amassed $25,000 from a website raising money to fund the legal costs of the appeal. The Christian family which would have had a 6th child on their own but for Kristi's severe case of endometriosis, say the little girl, they named Leah, would be better off with them than a single military dad.
In a 48-page ruling, District Judge Darold McDade condemned the adoption agency that handled the case because it failed to do its part to inform the biological dad of the adoption, the Salt Lake City Tribune reports.
Traditionally, the standard a court uses to determine how to solve custody disputes is "the best interest of the child." And so while the family is affluent and are able to provide the girl a large home, resources and a good life, the dad could too as well even though he is a single dad in the military. He wins because he has given no indication to be an unfit father and most importantly his blood biological father status trumps theirs.
In sum, the Freis assumed the risk that the father would come for his child when they adopted Leah. They should have prepared themselves for that possibility and had a contingency plan and maybe worked out a friendly visitation arrangement. Instead, it is being drawn out into an ugly custody case and little "Leah" is stuck in the middle of the mess.
The fundraising blog paints Achne as an unfit and uncaring father for not asking about her, but does not explain that he had no clue the child existed. Some of those commenting on articles about this story have said that Achne left his pregnant wife without looking back and is unlikely to be a good provider and/or may be shipped off again because of the military and forced to leave the baby with a relative anyway. They are making those judgments based on the scant pieces of information available though, not on knowing this man.
There are enough deadbeat dads out there who father children and do nothing or not enough to be in their lives and here we have one who wants his child and is a victim of a deceitful ex and he is being dragged up and about for trying to do what's right and exert his parental rights.
A friend of mine, a wife and mom to 6, who herself was adopted, said it well on a Facebook discussion about this case, "there isn't one person who has greater pain or love here. It's just different. But legally, dad wins, so it is what it is!"