A review of the adoption case Hunter v. Ferebauer that went through the Washington State Court of Appeals in November 2013.
By Christina A. Meserve and Charles E. Szurszewski, family lawyers
This case involved simultaneous parentage actions in Washington and Utah and adoption proceedings in Utah. The timeline of significant events is as follows:
July 2009 Mother becomes pregnant in Washington.
January 2010 Alleged father signs consent to adopt and relinquish. Later, he revokes.
February 2010 Mother moves to Utah. “Good luck” says alleged father.
March 2010 Baby is born and placed with adoptive parents. Mother and presumed father sign consents; parental rights of all three persons (mother, presumed father and alleged father) terminated in Utah.
March 2010 Alleged father files parentage action in Washington, mother served in May.
June 2010 Alleged father files parentage action in Utah.
July 2010 Alleged father moves to intervene in adoption case or set aside Utah termination order.
November 2010 Washington court commissioner asserts jurisdiction; mother and husband move to revise.
December 2010 Utah denies motion to intervene. No appeal. Alleged father moves to join adoptive parents and child in Washington action.
January 2011 Washington stays proceedings, apparently on motion to revise.
July 2011 Washington stay lifted.
December 2011 Washington action dismissed as moot; alleged father appeals.
November 2013 Dismissal affirmed.
Two issues were presented:
1. Was the trial court required to enter findings of fact and conclusions of law in conjunction with its order dismissing the petition? No, because findings and conclusions are not required under CR 12 or 56. Moreover, findings and conclusions are unnecessary since the review is de novo.
2. Was the Utah judgment terminating the parents’ parental rights entitled to full faith and credit? Yes, primarily because the alleged father litigated in Utah and failed to appeal the Utah court’s denial of the alleged father’s motion to intervene in the proceedings there.
Hunter v. Ferebauer: Standing to Contest the Adoption
The concurring opinion is significant, as it sets forth facts that are missing from the majority opinion. Apparently, Utah is known as a state that is unfriendly to unwed putative fathers. The mother and the adoptive parents were apparently all Washington residents who traveled to Utah for the purpose of facilitating the adoption there without the alleged father’s consent. Utah law requires that a father who wants to stop adoption proceedings may file a declaration of paternity and thus be named a necessary party. However, the declaration must also be signed by the birth mother after the birth of the child and before the consent to adoption has been signed. Here, the mother refused to sign the declaration of paternity, because she wanted the adoption to go forward. Moreover, the declaration was filed after the consent by the mother had been executed. Because Mr. Hunter failed to establish paternity in Utah, he did not have standing to contest the adoption. He failed to appeal that ruling, making it a final order that was entitled to full faith and credit.
Christina A. Meserve and Charles E. Szurszewski practice family law in Olympia, Washington with the law firm of Connolly Tacon & Meserve.
For purposes of proceeding to dispense with biological father’s consent to stepparent adoption based upon his knowing failure to provide for children’s care and support.