After a closed hearing in an Indiana trial court where it had been expected that Grayson would be turned over to his father, both sides released a joint statement agreeing to "resolve this matter in a way that meets the child’s best interest," and avoid further comment to the media.
Given the history of the case, however, it doesn’t seem realistic that the parties can come to an amicable agreement on the transition. Until this first gag order came down the Vaughns were waging a media campaign, spouting the usual “the only family he has ever known” and attacking Wyrembek’s sincerity and claiming he is not fit to have the child. Their friends are organizing a prayer session for tonight and expect 400 to 500 people to attend, according to the Louisville, Kentucky Courier-Journal.com.
Let me get this straight: a prayer vigil so that Grayson is not handed over to his biological father, the one he will grow up resembling. We are appalled at this absurd pandering to the higher powers in order to subvert the boy's right to grow up in the family where he belongs.
While what we hear bandied about regarding this case is that there needs to be a "transition" period during which the boy presumably gets to know his father. But if history is any indication, the transition process will likely create more hard feelings and distrust than already exists. That is what happened in the 1994 Baby Richard case--in which a father fought for for four years before he was able to take home his son. (In this case, Kirchner married the boy's mother.)
The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in June, 1994 that the boy (referred to as Richard but whose actual name was Danny) was not legally adopted by Jay and Kimberly Warburton and that Richard’s father, Otto Kirchner, should have custody. The Warburtons spent the next six months pursuing fruitless court appeals and making fruitful public appeals for the boy to stay with the “only family he has ever known.”
In January, 1995, the parties agreed to develop a transition plan. They decided to assemble a transition team of experts to assist them. The Kirchners selected child psychologist Karen Moriarty who agreed to work pro bono. She eventually wrote a book about the case, Baby Richard: A Four-Year-Old Comes Home, which is the basis for the summary of events here:
The Warburtons chose Dr. Bennet Leventhal, a child psychiatrist at the University of Chicago who had already publicly stated that they should keep the child. The parties agreed on a third team member, Ken Watson, a retired adoption social worker and former board member of the American Adoption Congress. The team concurred that the parents should establish a relationship with each other, develop a common or life story to explain the circumstances to Richard, and create life books with pictures of Richard that would be kept at each home. All parties agreed to meet together.
The plan unraveled immediately. Moriarty drafted the life story of the Kirchners, got Watson’s input, and faxed it to Leventhal. However, he decided the Warburtons were "not ready” to participate, as they had never told Richard he was adopted. Now they needed time to tell him. Contrary to their agreement, Leventhal and Watson met with the Warburtons without Moriarty or the Kirchners. Leventhal then announced he was going out of town and couldn’t meet for three more weeks.
Moriarty redrafted the life story and sent it to the Kirchners, Leventhal, and Watson. Leventhal told her to send it directly to the Warburtons. She called and left a message: Where should she send it? They did not return her call. Instead their attorney called Moriarty and told her not to contact them directly. This is a transition plan? This is obfuscation. And this was counter to the goal of having direct and trusting communications, as had been the agreement.
Kirchner was able to kick Leventhal off the team; now the Warburtons refused to continue. Attorneys took over; Watson withdrew. The Warburtons' attorney sent a letter to the Kirchners' attorney threatening media retaliation and complaints to professional licensing boards if the Kirchners didn’t continue with transition planning. What planning? Had they even told the boy yet?
The attorneys set up a meeting with the Warburtons, Leventhal, and Watson, in an amazing turnaround, re-joined the team as an advocate for the Warburtons. Not surprisingly, the Kirchners refused to attend. The Warburtons notified the media, resulting in scathing articles about the Kirschner's lack of cooperation. I know this is detailed, but it shows how transition periods work in real life in contested cases like this.
Now the Warburtons filed a motion in court asking that Leventhal be appointed to prepare a transition plan and that a special master (a sort of judge) be appointed to oversee it. The court denied the motion. During the entire time--months were going by--the Warburtons refused to allow the Kirchners to meet their son. The Kirchners demanded a meeting, saying that if they could not meet Richard, they wanted transfer soon. The Warburtons agreed to a meeting--only if the Kirchners did not touch the boy and agreed to be introduced by their first names and not refer to themselves as his father and mother. Can you believe this? This is a transition period? Rightfully, the Kirchners refused.
The Warburtons suggested another University of Chicago psychiatrist to replace Leventhal; she objected to the Kirchners' psychologist, Moriarty, being involved.
The parties finally set a date for the transfer. Through attorneys, the Kirchners told the Warburtons that if they did not contact the media about the day of the transfer, calls and visits would be allowed afterward. The child finally came home to his real parents four months after the parties began “transition planning" and ten months after the court ruled that the boy should be raised by his father, Otto Kirchner. Were the Warburtons interested in trying to maintain some kind of connection with the boy? Doesn't seem likely; apparently it was all or nothing. They called in the media which showed up in full force, taking pictures as tearful Richard was handed to his “strangers,” that is, his natural parents who had been in court fighting to get him for years. It was a total repeat of the DeBoer case a decade earlier in which tearful Roberta DeBoer handed over a screaming two-year-old to Michigan officials in the driveway.
The Kirchners refused visits after the transfer. The Warburtons played this up in the media, continuing to demonize the Kircheners. Moriarty remained in contact with the Kirchners for a year. Richard had no trouble adjusting to his family. She visited the Kirchners eight years later, and found a happy, well-adjusted 12 year old.
Moriarty’s findings are consistent with the results in other protracted contested adoption cases; the children do just fine after being returned to their original families. Here's a follow up report by the Detroit Free Press on the “Baby Jessica” case where Dan Schmidt gained custody of his daughter from the adoptive parents, Jan and Roberta DeBoer after years of litigation.*
“The girl millions of Americans remember as Baby Jessica turned 12 this month, and her story ought to humble all of us who foresaw such a dark future when the Michigan Supreme Court returned her to her birth parents in 1993.
Anna Schmidt was only a few weeks old when she became the object of a nationally publicized custody fight between her biological parents in Iowa and an Ann Arbor couple who hoped to adopt her.
Abetted by media-savvy advisers, Jan and Roberta DeBoer easily won the contest for the hearts and minds of the American public, who almost universally perceived the DeBoers as more responsible, better educated, and altogether more suited for parenthood than Anna's birth parents.
But the law was with Dan and Cara Schmidt, who regained custody of their daughter and brought her home to Iowa after a legal firefight that lasted 2 1/2 years. Even worshipers at the Schmidts' Lutheran church wept for the DeBoers' loss. Then they and practically everyone else waited to see how and when Anna's psychological devastation would manifest itself.
The tragedy that wasn't
Nine years later, they're still waiting. WDIV-TV (Channel 4) reporter Paula Tutman, who recently spent a weekend day at home with Anna Schmidt, found a self-possessed 12-year-old who adores her parents and her 9-year-old sister, makes friends easily and sings every Sunday before the congregation that once looked down its nose at her natural parents.It should not be surprising that children transferring from a faux adoptive home to their original family do just fine. They fit with their real family, just as nature intended.
Not that Anna's life in Blairstown, Iowa, has been a light breeze on the lake. Her dad has been out of work since 1999, when a trench he was working in caved in, injuring his pelvis. Dan and Cara divorced the following year. Anna and her sister, Chloe, divide their time between Dan's and Cara's residences.
It's not the family Beaver Cleaver grew up in -- but whose family is? Anna doesn't act like someone who's been dealt a bad hand. Maybe she's old enough to recognize that in a world where many children lack even a single adult who cares about them, she and her sister have lucked out.
She seems more bemused than haunted by her extraordinary history. In Tutman's interview, Anna can be seen leafing through a copy of "Losing Jessica," Robby DeBoer's account of her and Jan's unsuccessful adoption bid. Anna has also watched the made-for-TV movie of the custody fight, a maliciously deceitful production that canonized the DeBoers and reduced Anna's parents to hillbilly caricatures living in a hubcap-studded trailer."
The next hearing is scheduled for October 8.
* To read how the DeBoer case played in the media see: May the Richest Parents Win--The DeBoer Case.
For more on the "Grayson Vaughn" contested adoption, see: Biological Father Wins in Court, Again; Will the Vaughns Comply? and Biological Dad Seeks Return of His Son; Adopters Resist, Claiming: Best Interests.