SALT LAKE CITY — A recent Utah Supreme Court ruling may be the catalyst a Colorado man needs to get his young daughter back.
Baby B, as she is known in court documents, has been living with her adoptive family in Utah all of her nearly four years. They're the only family she's ever known.
But Robert Manzanares, Baby B's biological father, wants his daughter back.
"I look at her picture and I can remember that moment. So, it does give me something to hold onto," Manzanares said, talking about one and only time he's been able to see and hold his daughter.
Manzanares' story stretches back to when his girlfriend, Carie Terry, was pregnant. He says he was overjoyed and the couple planned on getting married.
But the relationship soon dissolved, and Manzanares says something changed in Terry that caused him to believe she may try to give the baby up for adoption.
"As she got closer to term, I hired an attorney and filed a paternity action after an email (she sent) stating that I was nothing more than a chromosome donor, and I wasn't the father to my daughter," he said.
In January 2008, the paternity action was filed in a Colorado, where Manzanares and Terry resided. It was two months before the child's scheduled birth.
"This case is about the mother's decision to have her child adopted without consulting or allowing the dad to raise his own child," said John Hendrick, Manzanares' Colorado attorney.
According to court documents, Terry sent an email to Manzanares telling him she was traveling to Utah to take care of her ill father.
Terry gave birth to Baby B in Utah in February 2008, and subsequently signed adoption papers allowing her brother and sister-in-law to raise the child.
Manzanares had no idea his girlfriend had given birth until she returned to Colorado. When he filed for paternity in Utah, a judge upheld the adoption of Baby B. Manzanares' attorneys appealed.
"I found that I was in for a battle across two states that has taken, now, a lot of money — $170,000 — and almost four years of my daughter's life missed," Manzanares said.
In January 2012, the Utah Supreme Court reversed the lower court's decision denying Manzanares his parental rights and sent the case back to district court.
Utah adoption attorney Wes Hutchins believes the Supreme Court's ruling is groundbreaking, not only for Manzanares, but for other paternal challenges to adoptions as well.
"It suggests that no longer will birth mothers be able to misrepresent what their intentions are," Hutches said. "I firmly believe that (Manzanares) will get his daughter back."
Hutchins believes Manzanares could not have known his girlfriend had given birth in Utah because she deceived him, an issue that was addressed in the Supreme Court's majority opinion.
Wrapped up in all of these issues is the fundamental issue of fairness and due process: We're not going to permit people — effectively this is what the justices are saying — we are not going to incentivize birth mothers or others to commit fraud and then expect to insulate that adoptive placement from any judicial attack in the future.
–Wes Hutchins, adoption attorney
Hutchins says Utah law allows adoptions to continue even if the unwed mother commits fraud by lying to the father about the whereabouts of the child. However, he says the Manzanares ruling could change that.
"Wrapped up in all of these issues is the fundamental issue of fairness and due process: We're not going to permit people — effectively this is what the justices are saying — we are not going to incentivize birth mothers or others to commit fraud and then expect to insulate that adoptive placement from any judicial attack in the future," Hutchins said.
Despite having been awarded custody of his daughter in Colorado, Manzanares has only met the little girl once, at a hearing in December 2008. Then, Baby B was 10 months old.
"I can't explain the joy I felt. The ease I felt. I now had a picture of her. I now had time with her. So, I knew who she was now. I know her name. I know who she is. She's beautiful," Manzanares said.
Undoubtedly, there is a little girl who likely has no idea of the firestorm that surrounds her and the lengthy court battle that will continue.
"Whether I would have met her that day or not. I would not have fought any differently or any harder or any less," Manzanares said.
KSL News contacted the adoptive parents through their attorney, Larry Jenkins. They declined to comment on the case.
As for Carie Terry, her attorney, David Hardy, sent KSL a statement via email: "Four years ago when Carie made her decision, she was in the first position to determine the best interest of her child. 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 most 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."