Adoptive Parents Ordered to Surrender 3-Year-Old to Biological Father
In what may turn out to be a nightmare-come-true for adoptive parents, an Indiana couple risks losing their son today to the child's biological father in Ohio, after fighting to adopt the boy for nearly three years.
The couple, Jason and Christy Vaughn, arranged to adopt the boy, Grayson, from his biological mother after his birth in 2007. However, after a series of legal battles that ascended to the Ohio Supreme Court, the Vaughns have been ordered to immediately turn the boy over to his biological father, Benjamin Wyrembek, according to the Toledo Blade.
The Vaughns were present at Grayson's birth in October 2007, and have had custody of the boy since they took him to their home in Indiana just eight days later, according to ABC News. However, within 30 days of his birth, Wyrembek, registered with the Putative Father Registry in Ohio, affirming that he might be the boy's father. Wyrembek then filed a suit to establish parental rights in December 2007, just weeks before the Vaughns filed for adoption, according to court documents.
Wyrembek had been seeing the biological mother -- who was married to another man at the time -- when she became pregnant. Ultimately, she broke off the relationship with Wyrembek and divorced her husband, then surrendered the child at birth to a Columbus, Ohio, adoption agency, according to the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel.
Grayson's biological mother tells ABC News she lost contact with Wyrembek early in her pregnancy, and wasn't required by law to provide his contact information to the adoption agency. Court documents confirm that the biological mother and her husband -- the legal father -- filed the necessary papers to surrender custody of the child within weeks of his birth.
Seventeen months later, after genetic testing confirmed Wyrembek as Grayson's biological father, and before the adoption could be finalized, an Ohio court ruled that the Vaughns had filed their adoption petition prematurely -- since paternity had not yet been determined -- and awarded custody to Wyrembek.
The custody decision has since been upheld by the Ohio Court of Appeals and, most recently, by the Supreme Court of Ohio, according to court documents, which refer to the "right of a natural parent to the care and custody of his children (as) one of the most precious and fundamental in law."
However, the Vaughns say that although they were aware of Wyrembek's intentions early on, he refused to meet or talk with them after Grayson's birth. So, as time passed, they became convinced that the law was on their side, the Blade reports.
"He's never contacted us directly. He's never asked how the child is doing. He's never sent a birthday card," Jason Vaughn tells the Blade. "What they'll say is they've litigated this from the beginning, that he filed a paternity action in the very beginning; that he's done everything he can do."
Glenn Sacks, national executive director of Fathers and Families, a national family court reform organization, tells ParentDish he sees this type of case all too often.
"These cases are very difficult because what usually happens is that the adoptive parents will hold onto the child as long as they can," Sacks says. "And then by the time it winds its way to a decision, they say, 'How can we rip the kid from the only family they've ever known and give him to his biological father?' "
But the attorney for the Vaughns, Michael Voorhees, asserts that the Ohio courts have not followed state adoption law.
"The law says you don't need (the birth father's) consent for adoption if he willfully abandoned the birth mother during the pregnancy," Voorhees tells the Blade.
In response to the decision, Wyrembek's attorney, Alan J. Lehenbauer tells ABC News: "My client, the biological father, was awarded legal custody by an Ohio court after consideration of all evidence." Lehenbauer adds that his client "has sought the return of his child since shortly after birth and will not relitigate this matter in the media."
Jason Vaughn says litigation is not the same as support.
"We want him to have contacted Grayson and to have supported him," he tells ABC News. "And our position is he has not done that."
Sacks says he thinks there's an enormous amount of prejudice against biological fathers who want to raise their kids.
"People say, 'Gee, could he really raise a kid on his own like that?' " Sacks tells ParentDish. "But when motivated fathers have a chance to raise their kids, they're usually very effective, and the research bears that out."
The Vaughns tell ABC News there are currently two different adoption petitions pending in Ohio, and they haven't had their day in court yet; they are now appealing the 24-hour order to turn Grayson over to Wyrembek.
"I just want to ask, if there's a congressman, a judge, a senator, the Ohio governor, the Indiana governor, please get involved. Please, I am begging you; this is our family," Christy Vaughn tells CBS News.
Reacting to the 24-hour turnover order, the Vaughns are asking that a transition be mandated, and have hired a child psychologist to draft a recommended transition plan for a slower, measured transition. That plan has been filed with the court in Ohio and is awaiting decision.
"If we're going to lose Grayson -- we don't think we should -- but if we're going to, then it's got to be done right, and the current order that stands isn't right, and anyone should know that," Jason Vaughn tells ABC News.
Christy Vaughn says she can't imagine telling her two other children that they'll be losing their brother.
"There's absolutely no difference. He's our child, and he has been since the moment I held him. I don't know anything else but that," she tells ABC News.
Neither of the attorneys in the case could be reached for comment.
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