By Abigail Norton
Capital West News
SALT LAKE CITY – Utah legislators discussed the fate of children young and old last week as they debated a bill to alter Utah’s adoption amendments in a Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee meeting.
SB101 would require a child to be in a home for 180 days before an adoption could be considered. This would be, as explained by Division of Child and Family Service Director Brent Platt, a return to the “status quo,” and would allow the courts to create a hierarchy of petitions.
In 2013, a Utah Supreme Court decision ruled that a competing adoption petition could be filed at any point during an adoption proceeding. This ruling has created a hardship for foster parents seeking to adopt, some of whom have spent thousands of dollars dealing with competing petitions.
According to Platt, approximately 20 families have paid up to $60,000 to defend against these other petitions. David Carlson, director of the Child Protection Division at the Utah Attorney General’s Office, said SB101 includes a provision that ensures a 120-day period following a shelter hearing during which a juvenile court must give preference to family members over other placements.
Carlson views the 120 days a “place saver.” A time where family members can file a petition for adoption and “let everyone know that they’re there, and they’re willing” even if they do not want to “jump in and immediately take custody of the kids.”
Kate Hansen of the Parental Defense Alliance of Utah suggested an alternative to the committee. “If a parent filed a statement with the court identifying kinship placement, within those 120 days anyone identified by the parent as a possible kinship placement could petition for adoption at the end.”
SB101 requires unmarried fathers who file a petition for paternity to also file a petition in a district court to establish child support. Dan Deuel of the National Parents Organization countered that unmarried fathers would have yet another hoop to jump through. “I see the value of the hoop, but is there a way that we could make it automatic?” Deuel said.
However, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, who is bill’s sponsor, said part of the intent is to make a father in this situation “put his money where his mouth is.”
The bill was given a favorable recommendation by the committee and is slated to be considered by the full body of the Utah Senate.