Searching for Emma: Father Fights for Daughter Given Up for Adoption

John Wyatt said ex had no right to give baby Emma to couple in Utah.

April 16, 2010, 7:54 AM

April 16, 2010— -- John Wyatt never got a chance to hold his daughter. He's never even seen her. All he has are a few pictures.

He hopes that will eventually change.

Wyatt, 21, is embroiled in a multi-state custody dispute after his ex-girlfriend gave their daughter, Emma, up for adoption without his consent.

"I talked about raising the baby everytime I saw her. To me there was never really an option," he told "Good Morning America" today. "I knew that I would do anything to be there for my child because I know what it's like to grow up without a father."

When Colleen Fahland got pregnant at 19, Wyatt said, he was very clear that he wanted to raise their daughter.

"Every time we talked together it was clear we were going to make a decision together," he said.

But Emma, now 1, was adopted by a family in Utah, a state known for siding with mothers in out-of-wedlock cases.

Wyatt said that he told Fahland the night before the birth that he wanted to be in the delivery room. The next day, he couldn't reach her and panicked.

Wyatt said he went with the hospital, but was told she wasn't there. But she was there and had told the hospital not to list her as a patient. He tried to enter the nursery to see his daughter and was threatened with arrest.

He tried for days to find out what happened to Fahland and his baby and was devastated to find out Fahland had given the baby up to Utah couple.

Wyatt went to court in Virginia and won custody of the infant, setting off a legal dispute between Virginia and Utah.

"It's the worst experience I have ever been through in my life," he said.

Lawyers for Fahland told ABC News that she now has "regrets" about how the situation was handled.

Utah, Virgnia Battling Over Custody of Baby Emma

Wyatt's lawyer, Stanton Phillips, said Utah has made such situations "impossible" for birth fathers.

"We're being told that Utah law overrides Virginia," Phillips said, accusing Utah of ignoring federal kidnapping laws that gives the child's home state, Virgnia in this case, the authority to decide custody.

The Utah couple who adopted Emma issued a statement to ABC News that they are "saddened that Mr. Wyatt has chosen to try this case in the media, rather than the courts where it belongs."

"As with all cases, there are at least two sides to the story," the statement read. "The adoptive parents prefer to allow the courts to do their job rather than to sensationalize their very personal and difficult situation in the national media."

There are at least 10 other recent cases in which babies were taken to Utah without their fathers' consent.

"Utah adoption statutes are especially harsh with respect to biological fathers who wish to assert rights in an adoption proceedings," said Joan Hollinger, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley.