Whatever Happened To ... the battle over Baby Emma

By Kris Coronado
Sunday, October 10, 2010

John Wyatt doesn't know when his 19-month-old daughter, Emma, took her first step or uttered her first word. Instead, the 22-year-old Dumfries resident knows what it feel likes to be "incomplete," he says, "like I'm missing something."

When featured in The Post in April, Wyatt was in the midst of a legal battle to bring his daughter home. It all started when Wyatt's girlfriend, George Mason University student Emily Colleen Fahland, started expressing concerns about whether the couple would be capable of raising the child together. According to Wyatt, Fahland sent him a text message on Feb. 5, 2009, saying that she'd been in contact with a Utah adoption agency, but Wyatt says Fahland agreed to discuss options before a decision was made.

On Feb. 11, an operator at Sentara Potomac Hospital in Woodbridge confirmed that Fahland had given birth to a baby girl, but when Wyatt and his mother arrived there, he says they were told there was no such patient. It wasn't until two days later that Wyatt received the news that his daughter had been relinquished for adoption.

Wyatt sued to intervene in the adoption process. But a Utah judge awarded the adoptive parents temporary custody. Wyatt took the decision to the Utah Court of Appeals; in the meantime, a Virginia judge granted Wyatt full custody rights last December, ordering Emma's return to Virginia. But the Virginia attorney general's office said it lacked the authority to retrieve Emma from Utah. As a result, Wyatt is still fighting to get Utah to recognize his parental rights. In Utah, a birth mother's consent is irrevocable once she signs the paperwork.

On Sept. 9, Wyatt attended his case hearing at the Utah Supreme Court. (The case had been bumped to the higher court from the appellate court.)

Wyatt's lawyer, Stanton Phillips, estimates a verdict will come at year's end at the earliest and says both he and his client feel "cautiously optimistic."

The adoptive parents requested that they not be identified in this story because they are concerned about the impact of media coverage on the baby. "Both the adoptive parents and the adoption agency believe it would be extremely detrimental to remove the child from the loving and stable home she has enjoyed for 19 months," the couple said in a statement released by their lawyer, Larry S. Jenkins. "Their primary concern has and always will be the best interests of the child."

Meanwhile, Wyatt says he is trying to live a normal life. He says he's working as a nightclub bouncer and plans to enroll at Northern Virginia Community College in January. He says he and Fahland are still dating while they wait to start raising Emma together.

Fahland's lawyer, Sharon Fast Gustafson, says her client gradually came to regret her decision to relinquish her child.

For his part, Wyatt says: "It's hard to sleep knowing your child is out there and you've never seen her. I'm never going to stop, though."

See original story: 'Baby Emma' case puts state adoption laws between father, child

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