By NINA GOLGOWSKI
PUBLISHED: 18:22 EST, 3 December 2012 | UPDATED: 10:58 EST, 4 December 2012
- Texas couple were experiencing marital trouble when husband took a job out of state leading to the quiet adoption
- Judge has since found birth mother had deceived her husband, the adoption agency and prospective parents
- Adopting couple of six other children given 60 days to give the child back to father
- Adoptive parents say they plan to appeal the judge’s decision
A Texas man is battling for custody of his first-born daughter after his wife successfully gave her up for adoption without telling him – to a family who now refuses to return the girl.
Terry Achane, 31, a drill instructor in South Carolina, says it was just days after he left his pregnant wife for his new job out of state that she quietly signed over their unborn baby to a family of seven in Utah.
His newborn baby, whom he had wanted to name Teleah, was given to Jared and Kristi Frei, who now say the girl is theirs and won’t give her back without a fight.
Mr Achane says that he and his wife, Tira Bland, were having marital problems not long after learning she was pregnant in 2010, leading to her decision and his now spiraling struggle today despite a judge ordering the girl returned to him last October.
The now ex-husband says Ms Bland had suggested having an abortion or giving their child up for adoption – fearing she would end up as a single mother – but he said no, encouraging their daughter’s birth.
It was just months later in February of 2011 that Mr Achane found himself sent to Fort Jackson in South Carolina for work, believing he’d leave and come back a new dad.
Ten days after his move, however, his wife went gave birth to a premature baby and signed away their child before cutting all contact with her husband.
‘I was like, “Utah? Where is Utah?” I’d never been to Utah. She’s never been to Utah,'” Mr Achane told the Salt Lake City Tribune of the moment he first heard the bizarre and horrifying news.
Sent to live with Jared and Kristi Frei, who had spent the last few years struggling to naturally expand their family of five children, the baby found herself in the city of Spanish Fork.
‘We knew that we were not done having children, but after years of sudden infertility and several miscarriages … we discovered somewhere down the line that Kristi had advanced endometriosis, and would not likely conceive or carry another child again,’ the Frei family write of their struggle in a blog aimed at raising money for their court battle.
‘…little did we know the challenges and trials that awaited us in finding and fighting for this little girl.’
– Frei family
Turning to adoption, in early 2009 the Frei family grew their family by one more with a baby boy named James.
Desiring to add one more child – ‘a close, similar sibling’ for James as they write – they found Mr Achane’s daughter, whom they named Leah.
‘Since that eventful day, we have, as a family, come to know that this dream was a righteous desire blessed to fruition by God, and that Leah would be that child – and yet, little did we know the challenges and trials that awaited us in finding and fighting for this little girl,’ they write.
The adoption agency Adoption Center of Choice told the new family that Mr Achane wasn’t aware of his daughter’s placement with them and he would most likely contest it if he had found out.
The Tribune reports that Ms Bland had given the adoption agency Mr Achene’s former address in Texas for contact, knowing full well at the time that he was not living there.
With the judge’s recent ruling he noted the Freis family acknowledging the risk of the father’s upset but ‘decided they wanted to proceed forward with the adoptive placement anyway.’
Kept in the dark throughout this with months of being unable to reach his wife, Mr Achane asked a friend to visit her home in Texas who reported that the house appeared vacant.
Feverishly calling anyone who may know where his wife could be, while fearing she may have carried out the abortion she once threatened to do, he learned from a family doctor that his wife was no longer pregnant but they could not legally disclose what had happened to the baby.
An ounce of relief only came to the horrified man when his wife finally called him in June, telling him she had signed away their baby to the Frei family.
‘I believe she felt guilty at that point because she just made a call out of the blue,’ he said of his ex-wife’s phone call.
Once he learned of his daughter’s fate, he immediately tried to track his little girl down but upon contact with the adoption center they refused to disclose any information on her whereabouts.
The agency told the court in October that it was standard procedure to not share any information with a father of a potential adoptive child when asked.
‘I am not a very religious person,’ Mr Achane has since told the Tribune, ‘but thou shalt not steal.’
Speaking of the drawn out legal battle, he said: ‘If they prolong it, that is more time away from my daughter. There are precious moments I can’t get back. … It has been a year and a half now. There is no court order saying they have the right to my child. I just won the case. I want to get my daughter and raise my daughter,’ he said.
Judge Darold McDade berated the Adoption Center of Choice’s handling as ‘utterly indefensible.’
‘This is a case of human trafficking,’ Mr Achane’s attorney Mark Wiser told the Tribune.
‘Children are being bought and sold. It is one thing what [adoption agencies] have been doing with unmarried biological fathers. It is in a new area when they are trying to take a child away from a married father who wants to have his child.’
‘It has been a year and a half now. There is no court order saying they have the right to my child. I just won the case. I want to get my daughter and raise my daughter’
– Terry Achane
When an attorney for the Frei family contacted Mr Achane, asking him to consent to the adoption, he said no and demanded his little girl returned to him – to the Frei family’s complete surprise.
‘Over the last 19 months, despite the law requiring that a father show interest in his child and at least attempt regular communication to establish a bond, the father has never shown any interest in Leah other than to hire an attorney,’ the family writes in their blog.
Despite a judge’s order to return the child within 60 days, the family now asks that his parental rights granting him custody of her be terminated.
They accuse him of abandoning both the mother and baby during her pregnancy and therefore demonstrating no capability for raising the girl.
‘The right of a fit, competent parent to raise the parent’s child without undue government interference is a fundamental liberty interest that has long been protected by the laws and constitution of this state of the United States, and is a fundamental public policy of this state,’ said Judge McDade.
He added that there is no law requiring the father to ‘prove himself’ as fit to father his own child.
‘Once Mr Achane contacted the Adoption Center of Choice … to let them know he opposed the adoption and wanted his daughter back, that should have been the end of this case,’ said Mr McDade.
Not going down without a fight, the Freis vow to appeal the judge’s decision, asking friends and family to support their case financially through their blog.
They note having paid for ‘two already expensive adoptions (each costing around $25,000),’ with a continuing fight only requiring more money.
Their online petition has since raised more than $20,000.
A hearing has been set for January 16 of next year on the child’s transition back to her father.