(NEW YORK) — An army drill sergeant whose estranged wife put his daughter up for adoption without his knowledge or permission while he was stationed in another state, has been reunited with the little girl, following a nearly two-year battle to get her back.
“I’m just happy right now. I’m with my daughter,” Sgt. Terry Achane said. “It’s about time.”
The Utah Supreme Court earlier this month overturned a request by the toddler’s adoptive parents to stay a lower court’s December order that the child be returned to Achane, her father.
On Friday the original trial judge, Darold McDade who ruled in Achane’s favor, held a transfer hearing that resulted in the little girl and her father being united this weekend for the first time since she was born 22 months ago.
“This is the first known case where the Utah State Supreme Court has removed a child from an [adoptive parent’s] home and returned the child to the … legal father,” said Achane’s lawyer Mark Wiser.
Wiser called the Supreme Court’s ruling a “huge victory” for “equal parental rights,” meaning one parent can’t put a child up for adoption without the other’s permission, and decried the adoption practice in Utah.
“Terry Achane believes that justice is finally taking place,” Wiser said, adding that his client remains “heartbroken that he has missed 22 months of his daughter’s life because of what happened. This is time that he and his daughter can never replace.”
Achane, 31, was stationed in South Carolina on March 21, 2011, when his estranged wife, Tira Bland, gave birth in Utah and turned the baby over for adoption just two days later.
He initially believed that his pregnant wife had followed through on a threat to have an abortion. It was several weeks after the baby, whom he calls Teleah, was born that he learned the child had been adopted and was in Utah.
When Achane contacted the adoption agency that had facilitated the baby’s placement with the couple, Jared and Kristi Frei, he was stonewalled, denied information and ignored when he told them he had not consented to the adoption, according to his lawyer.
In his ruling to restore Achane’s custody, Judge McDade said he was “astonished and deeply troubled” by the actions of the agency, the Adoption Center of Choice, calling its treatment of Achane “utterly indefensible.”
According to Achane, Bland gave the agency Achane’s old address in Texas where he lived prior to being stationed in South Carolina, and suggested he would not consent to the adoption. The agency attempted to contact him once in Texas, but seems not to have made any other efforts to receive his consent, Wiser said.
The agency would not comment.
Achane knew Bland was pregnant and had taken her to prenatal doctor appointments in Texas, but Bland cut off all contact with him following his deployment to South Carolina and made arrangements for the adoption in secret, his lawyer claims in court documents.
Calls to the Freis were not returned. In an email to ABCNews.com, their lawyer Larry Jenkins wrote: “The Freis have asked us not to comment publicly about the case.”
The Freis, however, have maintained a blog about the case where they claim that Achane “left [Bland] without any money, a car, or details of his whereabouts. Needing to act quickly for the best interest of her unborn child, and with incredible faith, fortitude, and courage, she put her child up for adoption.”
In 2008, Kristi Frei was diagnosed with endometriosis and told she would not be able to conceive, according to the blog.
The Freis insist that it was they who tracked down Achane “several months” after adopting the baby, whom they call Leah, but to “our great shock and dismay” he refused to consent to the adoption.
The judge said in his ruling, however, that the couple knew that Achane had never been consulted and “acknowledged this risk but decided they wanted to proceed forward with the adoptive placement anyway.”
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