Baby at center of interstate custody battle returned to mother in Illinois

Relates to:
Date: 2005-03-25

Associated Press

A 6-month-old girl at the center of an interstate custody battle has been reunited with her biological mother after a judge ruled the adoption agency in Utah mishandled the paperwork.

Carmen McDonald, 20, picked up Baby Tamia on Thursday night at O'Hare International Airport. "It's the best moment in my life," McDonald said.

McDonald had given up Tamia by signing away her parental rights in a Salt Lake City motel in December. However, she sued the adoption agency, A Cherished Child, in January to get Tamia back, claiming the agency pressured her into signing.

Cook County Judge Michael Murphy ordered Wednesday that Tamia should be turned over to Illinois officials. He had ruled last week that the adoption agency violated the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children, which requires adoption paperwork to be completed in the state where a child is born, not where an adoption takes place.

The baby had been living with Steven Kusaba, 50, and his wife, Lenna Carol Habbeshaw, 45, the Utah couple who planned to adopt her, since December. Utah authorities seized the baby and put her in an emergency shelter after the couple were arrested March 17 on charges of possession of cocaine, marijuana and drug paraphernalia and child endangerment.

Police said investigators found the drugs in the home as part of a long-term investigation. Detective Kevin Joiner said Friday he had no further details. The couple did not return a call earlier this week.

Murphy said he didn't consider the arrest when he ordered Tamia returned because he had already ruled that the adoption agency violated the law.

The Utah juvenile court system on Thursday approved releasing the baby to Illinois child services officials, who brought the child back to Illinois.

In court, Murphy tried to reassure parents who had adopted children that the McDonald case was unique and hinged on whether laws were followed and not on a birth mother changing her mind after giving up her child.

But adoption agency attorney Richard Van Wagoner said the agreement that is supposed to coordinate the transfer of children across state lines is routinely violated by adoption agencies.

"A mother might back out of the decision or make a commitment and not show up," Van Wagoner said. "So, the paperwork ends up being completed on this end. This was a technical violation and the practice is not a secret to the state."

Elizabeth Sollis, a Utah Department of Children and Family Services spokeswoman, said such transgressions were not a routine matter.

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