Terry Achane, a US Army drill sergeant, is fighting for the return of his 21-month-old daughter, Leah Frei, after his former wife gave their child up for adoption without his knowledge or consent. The Salt Lake Tribune reports Utah judge, Darold McDade has given the adoptive couple, Jared and Kristi Frei, 60 days to return the child to Achane, her biological father.
Attorney Mark Wise told the newspaper the adoption is actually a case of human trafficking. He added that unmarried biological fathers have been victims, but it is "new territory" for an agency to take away a child from a married father who wants his baby.
The adoptive parents are raising money on a website to appeal McDade's decision. Achane says he is not a religious person, but cited the Bible, saying "Thou shalt not steal," in reference to the Frei's resistance to returning his daughter. He says it has been a year and a half since he started the process and precious time with his daughter can't be recovered.
Tira Bland, the child's biological mother, and Achane are now divorced. They married in 2009 and lived in Fort Hood, Texas, along with Bland's daughter from a previous relationship. Bland learned of her pregnancy by Achane in June 2010.
Early in the marriage, the couple sought counseling, and during the pregnancy Bland said she felt abandoned by Achane. Per a Salt Lake Tribune report, Bland said, "It wasn’t anything like ‘I love you’ or ‘I will be back for you and the baby.’ It was just like he didn’t care." During the pregnancy, Bland considered an abortion and adoption, but Achane objected.
Achane's tells a vastly different story which the judge believed. He said he left Texas on Jan. 17, 2011, prior to beginning his drill sergeant assignment, in search of a new home for his family in Fort Jackson, S.C. Because Bland preferred to give birth in Texas, Achane said he planned to return for the delivery and expected Bland to later join him in South Carolina.
Ten days after Achane left, Bland made the decision to pursue adoption for her and her then husband's child. Unaware of her decision, Achane continued paying the mortgage and household bills. He reports that Bland had access to money for groceries, pregnancy and living expenses. She counters she had little money and didn't believe Achane had an interest in their baby.
Meanwhile, Bland located the Adoption Center of Choice, in Orem, Utah which arranged for her to come to Utah and give birth. She said she was honest with the adoption agency and the Frei's about her marital status but believed the Frei's would be good parents because of their Christian beliefs. Bland, who had been a single parent prior to marrying Achane, said she feared she would have two children to raise on her own and did not believe she was able to provide necessities. Despite Achane's desire to father his child, Bland tearfully said in a recent CNN interview, " . . . I would rather see her with me struggling first, before she goes with him."
The major culprit in this case is the Adoption Center of Choice. Agency officials knew that Tira Bland was married, that her husband refused to relinquish his parental rights, and that he was pursuing legal recourse once he learned his daughter's adoption was pending.
The Freis were advised on the details before accepting the baby into their home. They are currently appealing McDade's decision which would likely result in them keeping Leah for another two years during the appeals process. She is now nearly two, but in two years, she'll be about four. Her bio dad reports seeing her twice, for a total of six hours.
I agree with McDade, who, in a 48-page ruling, said the adoption is "utterly indefensible." The Adoption Center of Choice should face criminal charges for its failure to disclose requested information to Terry Achane and human trafficking. Utah is known for pushing through adoptions swiftly and playing fast and loose with its already lax adoption laws. However, the Freis are not without fault either; they were informed by the agency that Achane would likely contest the adoption but chose to follow through with it. Now that the judge has ruled in Achane's favor, they still hold on to "Leah" -- a child who is no longer their legal daughter.