An unbelievable adoption story surfaced out of Utah last week. However, unlike many heartwarming stories of adoption bringing families together, Jake Strickland’s story is one of adoption tearing a family apart – and Strickland is looking for justice. In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court on December 27, 2013, Jake Strickland alleges that Whitney Pettersson Demke (the mother of his three year old son) conspired with an adoption agency and the child’s adoptive parents to essentially kidnap the child shortly after his birth in 2010. According to court documents, Strickland and Demke met in 2009 , while Demke was separated from her Husband, but broke up before their child was born. Strickland recounts that the baby was born on December 29, 2010 and was put up for adoption by Demke the next day without Strickland’s knowledge. In fact, Demke did not notify Strickland of the child’s birth until one week later!
Strickland reported that although the couple broke up before the child was born, they remained friendly and had agreed to share custody of the child. The moment Strickland found out about the adoption, he immediately filed for paternity – but it was too late. But the surprises for Strickland didn’t end there. When the couple met in 2009, Demke had told Strickland she was divorced when she was in fact still marred to her estranged husband. Under Utah law, Demke’s estranged husband is presumed to be the baby’s father because the two were still married. Accordingly, only Demke’s husband was required to execute paperwork relinquishing custody of the child to the adoptive parents.
For Strickland, the fight is on for his son and for the rights of unmarried fathers across Utah. As Utah law presently stands, a biological father who has not filed every piece of paperwork required to claim paternity risks losing his child permanently. In Pennsylvania, before a child can be adopted appropriate notice (and opportunity to contest) must be provided to the other parent and, in the case of unknown paternity, a mother is required to notify all potential fathers. Accordingly, while there are statutory safeguards in place to protect against Strickland’s predicament in Pennsylvania, an unmarried father can never be too careful when it comes to asserting paternity and fighting for custody rights.
If you’re an unmarried father interested in gaining custody rights, contact our office today to learn more about your parental rights. Our PA child custody attorneys are experienced in fighting for father’s rights when it comes to paternity, child custody and child support.