WILLIAMSPORT - Christopher Carlton of Williamsport won the right to pursue custody of a daughter he’s never met, due to a ruling by the Utah Supreme Court.
Utah's highest court unanimously found a lower court judge made a mistake when ruling that Carlton forfeited his parental rights in the case that involves his biological daughter, who is now almost four years old.
In 2010, Carlton served as a military contractor in Afghanistan. He was away when his then-girlfriend gave birth to a baby girl.
When Carlton returned to Williamsport, he claims she said the baby was a boy and had died before Carlton returned stateside.
A few months later, as Carlton was pressing for details on the child's death, he says his ex's friends persuaded her to tell the truth: She flew from Williamsport to Utah, gave birth to a baby girl, and enlisted the help of a company named "The Adoption Agency of Choice" to place the child with an adoptive family.
When Carlton first tried to get custody, a lower court in Utah ruled that he had waited too long and that the time to challenge the adoption expired.
But, Tuesday, Utah’s Supreme Court ruled that the lower court did not take into account Carlton's Constitutional rights and ordered that the Williamsport man be given a chance to claim that some of Utah's adoption laws do not take into account his rights as a father.
In recent years, several military fathers have made the same claim about Utah, as they say their lost their parental rights while serving out of the country while children's mothers were flown to Utah and paid to surrender custody of their newborns.
Last month, the Utah Supreme Court awarded custody of a two-year-old girl who had been raised by an adoptive family to the biological father, who serves in the US Army. In that case, Sgt. Terry Achane's estranged wife allegedly claimed he was in Texas, when he was in South Carolina, and could not be served. The judge in that case called Achane's treatment by The Adoption Center of Choice "utterly indefensible."
Carlton, whose biological daughter's placement was also handled by The Adoption Center of Choice, says he expects to have a new hearing on his case next month.
Meantime, the state of Utah revoked the license of The Adoption Center of Choice last week.
The initial Action 16 Investigation by Newswatch 16's Dave Bohman can be found here.