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Adoption Deception: Toddler Left in Legal Limbo

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UPDATE 1:00 PM: Statement from Stacey Doss regarding the California versus Ohio battle for Vanessa Doss Adoption Custody Lawsuit: "The California court has passed the buck and given the entire case to Ohio. The Ohio judge has decided that they will put Vanessa into foster care. The birth father will have night visits with Vanessa.  Vanessa will likely be placed with the birth father's mother. The California court is vacating its order to keep Vanessa with me as of July 16, 2010. The court chose July 16th to give us time to file with the Court of Appeals in California. I only have until July 16th to save my daughter."

toddler left in legal limbo

Gina Kaysen Fernandes: A Southern California mother is embarking on a heartwrenching legal battle today to maintain custody of a 2-year-old girl she has raised since birth. The fate of little Vanessa rests in the hands of attorneys and family court judges in two states.

After ten years of infertility treatments, adoption attempts and a failed marriage, Stacey Doss finally achieved motherhood. "It was surreal," says Stacey, describing the day she got the call from an Ohio woman who had chosen her to become the adoptive parent of a newborn girl. Hours after the June 13th, 2008, delivery, Stacey cradled Vanessa in her arms at the hospital. "It was amazing," she recalls. "I looked at her and thought, 'Oh my gosh, she's mine!'" But that baby bliss quickly turned into devastation when Stacey learned that she had been deceived.

The birth mom had told Stacey and the California adoption agency that she had conceived Vanessa during a one-night stand with a guy she didn't know. She signed a penalty of perjury document, and the agency filed legal paperwork that allowed Stacey to take Vanessa home to Southern California. Everything was falling into place -- until the baby's birth father stepped forward to claim custody. Turns out, the birth mom lied to everyone, including the man (who had actually fathered two of her other children). "He thinks his child was stolen," says Stacey. DNA tests have confirmed that Benjamin Mills, Jr. is indeed Vanessa's father.

Stacey immediately hired attorneys to finalize the adoption process. "I was devastated ... I was a nervous wreck," she says. She also hired a private investigator, who uncovered disturbing details about the father's criminal history. Media reports confirm that Mills' rap sheet includes domestic-violence, child-endangerment and drug-possession charges, and that he has served three stints in prison. "I saw a monster," says Stacey. Mills has four other children, but he doesn't live with any of them.

Stacey tried to give Mills the benefit of the doubt, hoping they could reach an agreement if they met in person. In June 2009, she paid to fly Mills out to California to meet Vanessa -- and soon realized that compromise wouldn't work. "Vanessa was scared of him," says Stacey, who felt at the time that Mills was more interested in visiting tourist sights than in spending time with Vanessa.

The issue of who should have custody of the toddler is now up to the courts in California and Ohio to decide. "Mr. Mills recognizes how emotional this case has become," says Elizabeth Gorman, an attorney from Legal Aid of Western Ohio who represents Mills and spoke to KNBC. "We are all in a bad spot." The pro-bono agency declined to discuss details of the case with momlogic, but in a statement wrote, "We have faith that the court process will lead to results that are best for the child."

Stacey is not optimistic about today's hearing. "We are mortified," she says. "We don't know how much worse it can get." According to Ohio adoption attorney Jerry Johnson, the case doesn't look good for Stacey. "[Mills'] criminal record has no bearing whatsoever," says Johnson, who is not involved in this case but says the scenario is not uncommon. "If the courts find that the birth father's consent is necessary, the adoption can't go through."

Laws about birth parents' rights vary from state to state, but in Ohio, the burden is on the biological father to register with the state. A birth father has up to 10 months (beginning a month after his child's birth) to sign the "Putative Father Registry," which protects his parental rights in case the birth mother doesn't identify (or intentionally misidentifies) the birth father. If Mills signed this Registry, his parental rights are still intact. That doesn't necessarily guarantee he'll gain custody, but it means Stacey faces an emotionally difficult and financially draining road to justice. She has hired seven attorneys to fight this case, preparing for the worst. "I'm in big trouble," she says. "It doesn't look like California is going to stand up for this baby."

But why would Mills want custody of Vanessa, considering he has already relinquished custody of his four other children? "That's what's so egregious about this case," says Robin Sax, a momlogic legal analyst and former prosecutor. "While he may be asserting his parental rights, is he really acting in the child's best interest? Or is he taking advantage of the situation where the judge's hands are tied?"

Stacey's biggest fear right now is that Vanessa will end up in Ohio's foster care system while the court drama unfolds. Because the adoption is still pending, Vanessa is legally in the custody of Ohio Social Services; under a judge's order, the agency could take the toddler away from Stacey. "That's a highly unlikely scenario," says Johnson, adding that, unless it's found that Vanessa is in imminent danger, "I cannot see any judge doing that."

Stacey does her best to shield Vanessa from the ongoing stress. "She's the most energetic, funniest child who loves to laugh," says Stacey. And despite this ordeal, Stacey hopes her experience won't deter other hopeful parents from entering the adoption process. "It's the best thing I've ever done," she says.


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46 comments so far | Post a comment now
SS July 2, 2010, 9:55 AM

This is absolutely horrifying.

Lexy July 2, 2010, 11:09 AM

The father showed up at the hospital to see his child. The adoption was done using falsified papers. He objected to this adoption and did not know it was happening. The adoptive mother knew within days that someone claiming to be the father objected, and he demanded a DNA test. Those results were back within 4 months proving he was the father. This little girl could have known her father and siblings since she was 4 months old. But instead a legal battle has been going on. The adoptive person is the only parent the child knows, but that’s because she’s kept the father from his child, a child who he never gave up and never stopped fighting for.

No parent should lose their child because the other parent chooses to lie in court. No parent should be kept away from their child because someone wages a legal battle for so long, that they say too much time has passed for your child to call you Mommy/Daddy. This little girl is 2 years old, it is not too late for her to know the father and family that never gave her up and have been fighting for her since birth.

Lexy July 2, 2010, 11:19 AM

This article says the little girl was afraid of her father when she saw him at one year old. The article unfairly,
makes it sound as if he was scaring the child on purpose. Kids can sense tension, and anyone can imagine that the child was reacting not only to the emotions coming off of the adoptive parent, but also to the fact that unfortunately they had not been allowed to bond and spend time together as father and daughter.

I would like to point out ‘logically’, that not living with your kids does Not mean you don’t share legal custody, love them, or take care of them. It only means that you’re the parent without physical custody, like millions of good parents in this country (Moms and Dads).It also does not mean that someone can falsify adoption papers, give away your child, and then someone else can keep you from your child for years.

An adoption based on false papers should not be allowed to stand against the will of a legal parent who has objected from the beginning.

Lexy July 2, 2010, 11:30 AM

“While he may be asserting his parental rights, is he really acting in the child’s best interest? Or is he taking advantage of the situation where the judge’s hands are tied?”

Is he taking advantage of the situation? He’s the one who was taken advantage of when someone falsified documents giving his child away against his will. He has been at a disadvantage, unable to get his own child back despite losing her through lies and fighting from the start. He has nothing to gain except his own child.

What was in this little girl’s best interest when she was a few days old, when she was 4 months old, when she was one year old, and now she is two years old? The truth has been known for a long time, and with the truth came many opportunities to make an easier transition for this child back to the parent and family who never gave her up. She’s two years old, it is absolutely possible for the adults to work together to ensure that she is happy to be with her Daddy, siblings and family. This does not have to a be a traumatic custody exchange for the child, like in the Elian Gonzales case when he went back to his Dad.

Renie July 2, 2010, 1:09 PM

I find myself mortified at the thought of anyone thinking this child should be returned to her biological father. IF the man were a decent and loving father, then I would agree. However, he has proven time and time again to be a menace to society as well as his other four children. There is no “happily ever after” if Vanessa is handed over to her father.

Sherry July 2, 2010, 1:10 PM

So I started reading this article and thought to myself……How is this Father being a parent when he isn’t concerned about his daughter’s best interests, nor his other children’s best interests for that fact? Why doesn’t he fight for his other children’s lives, if he wants to be a Father?

Then I read the posted comments. The comments that sided with the biological Father really frightened me.
It is both frightening and sickening to see that no one did their homework nor searched to look at true facts about the Father’s past and yet they feel that it is within the best interest of the Father and child for them to be together?

It is absolutely sickening that we live in a world that doesn’t look after the safety of our children first.

This Father has no contact nor played any parenting role within his other 4 children’s lives but wants this one because someone has taken something that he feels is his? Are you serious? What a selfish decision. Obviously not one that is made by a caring or loving parent. Not to mention his violent and criminal past.

Anyone who has sided with the Father needs to have their heads examined as should Mills.

Here’s a tip for all of you: A parent is not dertermined by relation or blood. A parent is determined by love, patience, unselfishness and nurturing. None of which has been shown to any of your children, Mills. This goes for anyone who sides for you as well.

Anonymous July 2, 2010, 2:35 PM

These are the kinds of cases that are really difficult. The best interest of the child is to stay with the mother she knows. The father has a right not to have his child taken from his without his consent. Nobody can really win in this case. The adoptive mom’s best chance is to bribe the dad to give up his rights now.

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caroline July 2, 2010, 10:56 PM

This is the kind of story that keeps fertility clinics and international adoption agencies in business. It just proves that adoption is just too risky in the US. Couples would rather bankrupt themselves on fertility treatments or international adoption, single women treat adoption as a last resort if they can’t have their own baby with a sperm donor.

At some point, the courts have to say adoptive parent’s rights matter from day one. California law gives surrogate parents rights as ‘intended parents’, but adoptive parents have no right at first. Who wants to take in a child with that kind of uncertainty? Until that changes, kids will languish in the system because the fear of having a child being taken away by the bio-parents is too great. People won’t take in kids with the cloud looming over that the bio parents can come in and take the back. It’s why so few want to foster to adopt and it’s why so many couples spend so much to adopt internationally.

pharmacy tech July 3, 2010, 8:05 AM

nice post. thanks.

Mirah Riben July 3, 2010, 10:12 AM

Any battle over a child is troubling. Children are not property to be fought over and whomever ins, children are hurt by such battles - and the longer it goes on the deeper the scars. Think of the biblical story of King Solomon, The loving parents LETS GO!

The judge has made a wonderful decsion so far. One I suggested on my blog . He has given custody to Vanessa grandmother and given her father visitation.

I am not saying the there are not serious issues to look into re the father, and stated on my blog tht if he is in fct proven to be unfit, then obviosuly he should not have custody and perhaps not even unsupervised visitation. But in all the time this case has been going on - TWO YEARS - I see no where were that is the case….despite dragging his past record out. People do change, ,mature and reform themselves. It is not up to any of us to judge his abilities as a parent. Social workers and judges make those decisions.

And, Doss, the PROSPECTIVE adopter distorts truths to make herself and her case stronger:

1) Her infertility has absolutely NOTHING to do with Vanessa’s best interests or the constitutional right to parent one’s own child. She may feel self-pity and seeks the pity of others, but it is irrelevant to Vanessa’s best interest.

2) No one OWES her a child! Especially one who is NOT an orphan but has a father who WANTS her!

3) She is fighting tooth and nail. Even if she wins, Vanessa will know that her adopter kept her from a parent who wanted her.

4) two-year olds are OFTEN afraid of strangers, especially one’s their primary care-taker may have warned them about. Not surprising at all. besides, it’s Doss’ reporting such fear. He was given visitation and I am sure social workers and psychologists interviewed the child and father and watched them together before granting that.

The best thing for this child is to work out a compromise involving visitation and end it as soon as possible.


Julianne July 3, 2010, 4:45 PM

A convicted felon with multiple domestic violence and drug charges, who did not know he had sired a fifth child until after the child was born and adoption papers signed? Who does not live with ANY of his other kids? And this poor little girl is going to foster care and at best to the GRANDMOTHER? Leave her in the happy loving home she has.

K.Hervey July 3, 2010, 7:47 PM

First it should be pointed out this “father” has other children. Of which he has no or little contact. This will cause long term damage. Knowing he doesn’t want them.

This woman, WANTS and adores this child. Perhaps the birthmother lied because she feared this man?

So place this child with a violent criminal who doesn’t care about the child he knows or a woman who loves her deeply.

Oh and to the woman who said she knew shortly after the baby came to live with her.. ANY mother will tell you the moment they hold that child they would die for them. The amount of time matters little.

Anonymous July 4, 2010, 1:19 AM

Am I the only one who wants to know why Vanessa can be turned over to the woman who raised a man who abuses women? Not convicted one time but several times? Vanessa’s birth mother didn’t press charges and the courts convicted him for a year when he attacked her.
This “man”, I use that term loosely, doesn’t have custody of his other 4 children. What makes him want Vanessa? Why isn’t he fighting for his other children? He is the selfish one, not Ms. Doss.
I pray her appeal goes in her favor.
I pray the Ohio courts do the right thing and look at Vanessa’s rights, at what Vanessa is entitled to. She’s entitled to a serene life. A life where she isn’t living in fear of the man with a proven history of violence.
God Bless Stacey and Vanessa

VanessasRights July 4, 2010, 3:16 AM

Stacey Doss is an incredibly strong woman who has done nothing but portray grace, dignity and strength in this entire process.

Mirah Riben —- Take a look at your “Points” and think again who is distorting the truth. Your so called “Points” are full of conjecture.

Not once has Stacey ever stated that anyone owes her a baby nor has she stated that her infertility has anything to do with the best interest of Vanessa.

Let’s talk facts: Benjamin Mills has been convicted three times of domestic violence. The third time he attempted to strangle the mother of his children and dragged her around the house while she was holding HIS baby. The police found clumps of bloody hair around the house. How can you trivialize his past record? It’s not so far in the past.

It might be a good idea if the next time you blog you think first and ask yourself “am I speaking the truth or my distorted version of the truth”?

It would be a crime to separate Vanessa from the only Mother she has ever known — STACEY.

product of adoption July 5, 2010, 11:25 AM

How anyone not look at this mans criminal record? As stated above Ohio
wants to turn this beautiful little girl over the mother of this this monster, do they believe she will keep
her safe? This is the woman that raised a domestic abuser. REALLY I MEAN REALLY
When does common sense come into play.
If the other children were removed from his custody is the court going to use this baby as a grand experiment to show
he is Father of the Year. Come on this
is all about ego and the fact that nobody gets to have his sperm contributions. UGH!

Anonymous July 6, 2010, 8:41 AM

Adoption based on fraudulent information should not be permitted to go through. You can’t take away a parent’s rights based on false paperwork. He registered as the child’s father within the 30 days provided by Ohio law. If he’s a bad father then you take away his rights by proving that in court, not by lying on adoption papers.

The courts are saying this has gone on for two years but the law was broken from day one. It was known that the adoption was based on lies and the child had a parent who wanted her since she was an infant, the legal case could have ended then.

Isn’t the child already in foster care, and the woman trying to adopt her considered her foster mother?


Anonymous July 6, 2010, 8:48 AM

This little girl should be allowed to have all the people who love her in her life.

mKCYBDap July 6, 2010, 8:57 PM

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forex robot July 7, 2010, 5:06 PM

nice post. thanks.


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