' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Birth Parents Win One in Michigan

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Birth Parents Win One in Michigan

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


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  2. Just a note, a went and read on the "He" story, couldn't believe I hadn't heard of it before considering it is even listed in Wikipedia. It made me ill. That poor girl. If the "foster" parents had returned the child when they should have perhaps she would have had some knowledge of her own culture. As a result it is noted that Anna Mae feels awkward in school, etc., since she cannot seem to bridge the communication gap. Wouldn't have happened if she hadn't been held in what amounts to "hostage" for eight years.

    Sorry, pushed my buttons this morning.

    Take Care,

  3. Oh, the He story really got to me also. The details of how the couple lost the child--partly a language and cultural issue--are pretty sickening.

    And after it was all over, the Hes invited the couples' little girl over for a birthday party and overnights because they were good friends, having been together for so long. One of the TV magazine shows did a long segment on the story, showing Anna Mae with her parents, who had had another child by the time they got Anna Mae back, and the adopters being able to accept gracefully AT LAST that the girl belonged with her natural family.

    The story ends with the family going back to China.

  4. Excellent blog and excellent news. It is good to hear reason prevail and natural families be recognized as the best option for their children.

    One minor criticism, and it is quite common, please don't refer to these people as adopters or adoptive parents. They are not. They will not be adopters until the adoption is finalized, and since, in these cases, that will never happen, they are foster parents or Prospective Adoptive Parents (PAPs). I think that is another little slippery thing in the language designed to inspire sympathy for these "poor" adopters. This one is quite common in the press and it is inaccurate.

    Thanks for putting this story up.

  5. That IS good news.
    Even so, the Unthanks have a lot to answer for. It must be so hard for that boy. If he'd been returned to his father one month after the birth, when paternity was determined, he wouldn't have to be torn now.
    Phyllis Unthank really made me angry when she said she didn't want to put "that sweet little boy in the middle" - when it was HER who put him there in the first place. Sanctimonious hypocrite.

    Here's a sad update to Anna Mae He's story. Another divided child.
    And I bet the Bakers still think they were in the right.

  6. Thank you Kippa, that is exactly what I have been saying all along. They both want every bleeding heart to cry for them, but they did this. They did it to themselves, and they did this to my son. I have listened to people that sympathize with them, and I have heard their arguments, but my reply is always the same. It's not just when paternity was established that I wanted custody, but two months before. I was contacted by Bethany Christian Services asking for my consent. I told them that I had custody of our daughter, that I would take IMMEDIATE custody of my son. I would be more than happy to submit both of us to a DNA test, and had I been disproved as the father than I would consider consenting then. There was no way before hand. These people (the Unthanks) knew this from the start. THEY filed his birth certificate application (as Duane Ferrell Unthank) listing the father as unknown. They knew perfectly well that a legal father existed. However, they knew with my name on the birth certificate that the hospital would not let them leave without my permission. So, they thought that they would just take him home and later roll the dice with a DNA test. The whole thing blew up in their faces when they found out I was the biological father. I was already trying to get him back BEFORE the DNA testing was done!

    This people live in their own misery that THEY created. BUT they had to drag it on for six years. This was never about what was in "the best interests of the child". this was what they thought was in their own selfish, best interests. They don't care about anyone but themselves. They don't deserve a child, and I hope they spend the rest of their lives childless and alone. They put us through six years of hell - If I sound bitter and unfeeling - sorry. After what they have done, what do you expect.

  7. Regarding the Michigan case. You have a LOT of the information wrong. Christine DID sign over her rights legally to the Unthanks. The biological father wanted to sell the baby. He agreed to sign over his parental rights when he thought he was going to get 10 thousand dollars for his signature. When he found out he could not "sell" the baby this way, it became a control issue for him. The reason the court case took so long was because Christine had signed over her rights legally and the time had long passed for her to change her mind. Custody was not awarded to the biological father because he has a long history of domestic violence. He has been in jail for abusing his mother and Christine. He has also done jail time for other crimes. Visitation did not go well. The Unthanks had to take Duane to the hospital several times after he came back home to have unexplained injuries documented. The police were called to Christine’s home when Duane was visiting and the neighbors told the police that "they better give that little boy back to the other parents" Even though this was known to the judge, it did not matter. Why is Christine going along with this? Remember, she is a victim of abuse and she told the Unthanks at the beginning of the custody battle that she was afraid for her life if she didn't do what Ken wanted her to do. Doesn't it make your heart all warm and fuzzy when you know what kind of home Duane got put back in to?

  8. Cody is home for good!

    Read pudate at:


  9. Cynthia, Cynthia, Cynthia, You are either quite the extravagent liar or someone has fed you a bunch of lies. There is NO "extensive background" with domestic violence. I challenge you to prove one shred of that. HMM did you also believe the lies that the Unthanks told everyone when Cody was first born that Phyllis had a baby herself? She had to tell this one to excuse the disgust people would have with her for trying to breast feed a baby that wasn't her own. Or for taking (kidnapping) a child that did not belong to them. Or the one that she told everyone that Cody had been "removed" and was with them under foster care? As for "selling him - Are you kidding me?! John Mills, the attorney for the Unthanks offered me $10,000 for my consent. An offer I turned him down on immediately. An offer Mr. Mills is also faces Michigan disciplinary councel for! The only time that I even cnsidered consenting is when John Mills threatened custody of my daughter Samantha. When I went to court about the consent, the judge asked me if I had been threatened in any way for my consent. I told him that I had, and explained to him about Mr. Mills threats over my daughter. The judge refused my consent and told me to fight these people with "every ounce of your being".

    My mother? At what point have I ever been in jail for abusing my mother? Or Christine for that matter? My mother is insane, and I have nothing to do with her. Let's remember the fact that my mother engineered this with her friends the Unthanks, and fought deligintly beside them. AGAINST KEEPING HER OWN GRANDSON IN THE FAMILY!! My mother has also spent years in direct psychological care and has done stints on psych wards in hospitals. She's just not right in the head. Let's also point at a little known fact (as credability) that my mother failed a polygraph test when she falsely reported $750 stolen from her husband that she in fact took from him herself!!

    What "unexplained injuries"? Oh you must be talking about the one where they tried to file abuse charges against both Christine and I for feeding him a hot dog! LOL Ya they tried to raise him as a vegan, and when we gave him hot dogs, like his sister was eating, they tried to make claims that it was abusive and hard on his digestion. This is one of several rediculous claims these idiots made. Why don't you also state that the Unthanks made nearly 30 claims to CPS against us. sdimply abusing CPS to further their claims. YET, CPS in their investigations, found absolutely no basis for their false claims. As a matter of fact their were case notes that stated not to investigate any further claims without some substantial evidence. Even they saw they were be "used" and abused so the Unthanks copuld try to create a case out of nothing. If their was "abuse" as you claim, then why did Christy Glenn, the gaurdian ad litem, find both christine and I fit, and able to "provide all their children with a warm and loving home"?

  10. You want to talk about abusive tactics,look at your friends the Unthanks. How about people that tell a child that his mother couldn't take care of him. So, she wrapped him up, put hiom in a basket and through him in a river??!! Ya, l;et's remember that Phyllis made that statement right on the stand. Even Judge Blackwell was disgusted with that one.

    AGAIN, Christine NEVER gave up her legal rights. The papers she did sign were dismissed along with the falsified, illegal adoption petition (that listed the father as unknown) that the Unthanks and their crooked attorney filed as soon as the judge at juvenile court found out there was a legal father that existed taht wasn't going to be a party to any of it. Their adoption petition was only there until Cody was 6 weeks old. After that, they had no legals right to keep him, except these weak power of attorney papers that they forced and coerced Christine into signing. They told her that they had to have this power of attorney for medical puproses. They also told Christine that if she did not sign them that she could be charged with abuse and neglect because then CODY would be with people that had NO LEGAL RIGHTS and could not provide him with medical care. These people even used the people they knew at Oakwood Hospital to see to it that Cody had an asthma diagnosis so they could obtain a co-temproary gaurdianshiop. HHHMMM, yet when I took Cody personally to a pulmonary specialist at U of M, I was told Cody DID NOT have asthma in any way. Nor had any evidence that he ever did. Yet another lie told by the Unthanks to try to push their case.

    Look at the facts, the Michigan appeals court, the Michigan State Supreme court, all faced with the same facts found that Cody should be at home with his biological family. Even Donald Duquette at UofM, given all of the facts, stated that Cody SHOULD have been returned to ME at birth. The Unthanks expoited a court system, and used an overloaded Wayne County Judge that couldn't get his own personal life straight. You're obviously the rambling of an undereduacated, bitter, and albeit, lied to little person.

    Christine and I have been back together for some time. In March, 2003 our daughter Brooklyn was born. On December 7, 2009 or son Jason Wayne was born. A nice big happy family. Just what I always wanted.

    Oh, and by the way, "Duane" does not exist. Never has existed, and with any luck for some poor unfortunate child, probably never will. His name is Cody, always has been, and always will be. I guess you're just bitter because your friends lost in their lies. Christine and I both knew that if we always stayed straight, always told the truth, that we would prevail in the end, and we did. One way or the other, Cody is where he should be, and always should have been.



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