D.A. v. State (In re W.A.)

In D.A. v. State (In re W.A.), 2002 UT 127, 63 P.3d 607, a minor, one of whose parents had abused him and both of whom had been forced to relinquish custody of him six years earlier when they were facing felony charges, had been brought to Utah by his aunt and had lived here with her for a significant time. Id. The minor's guardian ad litem, together with the State, filed a motion to terminate the parents' parental rights. Id. The guardian ad litem and the State, both charged with protecting the minor's best interests, thus acted on his behalf to determine his status with respect to his parents. In the original trial court proceeding at issue here, in contrast, the Adoption Center, a for-profit adoption agency, sought to terminate a biological father's parental rights in order to proceed with its business of facilitating the adoption of a child whose "home state" had never been Utah. The Adoption Center is a private entity under no public obligation to protect a child's best interests. These interests are not served by unfairly preventing a biological parent who has developed a relationship with his child from asserting his parental rights. It is the role of the courts to protect the interests of both parent and child by considering further whether "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice" have been satisfied. See id. Having decided that the status exception applied in D.A., the court nevertheless found it necessary to determine "if exercising jurisdiction in this case otherwise meets the due process requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment." Id. The court listed two reasons for its decision that due process was otherwise satisfied: First the court found it "clear" that Utah was the most suitable jurisdiction for resolving the minor's status with respect to his parents because "all relevant information" concerning the minor was in Utah, Utah had supported the minor for a number of years, and, "perhaps most importantly," there was good reason to believe that if the Court refused to exercise jurisdiction, "no other state would be able to assert jurisdiction to resolve W.A.'s status." Id. Second, the court noted that the parents' procedural due process rights were satisfied because they had received actual notice of the termination proceeding and had an opportunity to present evidence at the hearing. Id.