More positive news about children NOT being separated from their natural parents has been in the news. A Michigan couple, Christine Wolfe and Kenneth Barnett learned on Christmas Eve that the Court of Appeals sided with them after a five-year battle for their son.
A prospective adoptive couple, Phyllis and Phillip Unthank, of Dearborn (coincidentally, my home town) had custody of the boy from birth to 18 months--though the mother never relinquished him legally. As a divorcing mother, she did not think she could financially care for the new baby as well as a daughter the couple already had. Again the story--as these stories all are--is complicated: a couple divorcing, the husband/father questioning paternity, the paternity confirmed, the couple get back together, and the father asks for his son.
The Unthanks said, No thanks, and thus began the long court process.
The father filed for custody of the boy in both circuit and and probate courts and was denied. Now why is that, you ask. Clearly, he was the father and had never agreed to give up his son. Answer: He didn't have a lawyer. When the couple divorced, they were granted joint custody of their daughter.
And although Christine had given the Unthanks power of attorney for medical reasons for the boy, she never signed surrender papers. When the boy was 18 months old, Christine asked for him back and revoked the couple's power of attorney. The case dragged on because Wayne County does not have a family court to handle all the family's issues from divorce to custody, and so two different judges were involved in the early stages.
Now I know it is difficult for adoptive parents to have a child, believe that she or he will be a part of their family, and then lose that child, but what in their DNA makes them go against the ethical rightness of returning that child to her or his natural, biological, genetic parents? When Aston some months back asked me what part of my pie chart could be ascribed to selfishness when I was reunited with my daughter Jane, I was speechless. But what in adopters like the Unthanks can be ascribed to compassion for the natural parents? In their unremitting determination to have a child at all costs, they lose all moral authority and human dignity. They become craven child snatchers. And the courts have so often sided with them.
Guess who pops up in this story: Roberta Deboer, the she-devil of child snatching. "Once you have a baby that you care for day in and day out and you in every right believe that child is yours," she says in The Detroit News, sounding every so much like Sarah Palin with her fractured syntax. "Those parents became parents the moment they took that child in their arms." Sorry Roberta, that would made every nanny a parent with the right to hang unto the child...forever.
Time passed, the Barnetts had another child, and got a lawyer, and a good one: the same one who represented the Schmidts in the Schmidt/DeBoer case we've been discussing here of late: Marian Faupel. So far the couple has paid about $30,000 in legal fees. They are in debt for another $80,000. Their home in Dearborn Heights was foreclosed. "Most people would have lost their child -- that's the tactic," said mother Christine of the many motions and counter-motions brought by the Unthanks. "It's to force you to give up."
The Barnetts (who also have an older child, Samantha, now seven) were eventually granted visitation, and when that went well, the courts came up with a time-share plan: the boy, called Daune by the Unthanks, and Cody by the Barnetts, was to spend a half week with his natural parents, a half week with the Unthanks. Think of it, on Sunday, you're Cody, on Thursday, you're Duane. The story stays he was being schooled in different religions, but does not specify. I doubt it was between Presbyterian and Methodist. Is this sick or what? But all this child-sharing ended abruptly in February of 2008 when the Probate Judge June Blackwell-Hatcher granted the natural parents full custody. Hurrah! Now Cody could be Cody 24/7.
What did the Unthinks do? Ka-ching, Ka-Ching, they had the bucks to continue dragging it out in court, and that they did. Fortunately common sense and moral rectitude prevailed when the State Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's decision to give the Barnetts' fulltime custody on December 24. Talk about a Christmas present! Interestingly, the Court cited the Michigan Supreme Court's decision in the Schmidt/DeBoer case in their decision.
The story in the Detroit News covers the ups and downs of the case and includes this particularly tasty tidbit I quote here: [Child] advocates laud the ruling, which underscores parents' constitutional rights to raise children regardless of their circumstances as long as they are fit. They say birth parents frequently give up or lose such battles because adoptive parents typically have more money to spend on qualified representation and extended court fights.
But adoptive parents and their supporters sympathize with the Unthanks, and say courts sometimes favor birth parents over the best interests of the child.
Courts sometimes favor birth parents over the best interests of the child?
Why do adoptive parents think that simply because they have more money they are always "in the best interests of the child?" We know that's how adoptive parents often feel--and act on that--but this attitude makes me nuts. Unless there are serious compelling reasons to remove a child from his parents, everyone is better off with their natural parents--people who look, think and act like them. Who can give them a kidney if necessary.
If we first mothers and fellow travelers keep winning these cases, maybe prospective adopters will stop fighting in court to get children that are not theirs when the natural parents are ready and willing--and want them back.
This case of course reminds us of the DeBoers, but more recently a Chinese couple had a protracted and expensive fight to get back their daughter, who had been born in the U.S., and return to China. That was the Anna Mae He case, which dragged on for five years, from 1999 to 2007 until the Tennessee Supreme Court decided for the Hes, the biological parents. One of the reasons the adopters used against the couple was that they were planning to take their daughter back to China.This was a particularly noxious case in Memphis, with all the prejudices of race and money on display. Learn about it here. --lorraine