In this case, a single father actually wins a round in family court. It's not over yet, for reasons I don't understand, but read the court's opinion here and maybe you can figure it out.
There's a good bit to chew on in the case of In the matter of Baby Boy M., A Minor. As its name suggests, this is an adoption case. Like the last adoption case out of Utah that I wrote about a few weeks ago, the facts in this case tell a lot about the depths to which some mothers will descend to keep a father from his child. Adoption agencies facilitate the mother's behavior.
Shawn and Samantha lived together in the little Texas town of Granbury just southwest of Fort Worth. They weren't married, but they had a daughter, Kaylee in 2003. In late 2004, Samantha moved out of the house and within weeks was living with Darrell. A few months later, she announced that she was pregnant and intended to place the child for adoption. Shawn immediately told her that, if the child were his, he wanted custody and would not agree to any adoption.
Samantha learned of a couple, Travis and Sabra Hess, who lived in Boise, Idaho, who wanted to adopt. The Hesses were using the services of LDS (think "Latter Day Saints") Family Services, which coincidentally was one of the adoption agencies involved in the Utah case I blogged about earlier. Samantha spoke with LDS caseworker, Kimberly Sidwell and according to the court,
Sidwell met with Samantha two weeks before the baby was due to be born. At that time, Sidwell asked Samantha whether she knew the identity of the baby's father. Samantha told Sidwell that Shawn was the father and indicated he was not aware of her pregnancy. Sidwell asked for an address to contact Shawn, but Samantha said she did not know where he was. Samantha did, however, provide Sidwell with Shawn's date of birth and social security number. After the meeting, Samantha asked LDS if she could work with a different caseworker due to a “personality conflict” with Sidwell.
Samantha next met with Eric Larsen from LDS. Larsen also asked about the paternity of the baby, and Samantha told him she was fairly certain that Shawn was the father. Samantha also stated, however, there was a possibility that the father was Darrell. When Larsen asked where he could find Shawn, Samantha told him she thought he was either living in Dallas or going to school in Florida. After being asked multiple times how to contact him, Samantha finally admitted that Shawn lived in Granbury and gave Larsen a phone number for Shawn's mother, Sandra.
Both Sidwell and Larsen were informed by Shawn and his mother that Shawn had no intention of relinquishing his parental rights if the child were his. When Shawn and his mother found out what hospital Samantha was in, they both talked to a social worker there and told her Shawn would request a DNA test to determine paternity and assert his rights.
At that point, everyone involved in the case knew very well that Shawn refused to give up his parental rights. The sensible thing - the humane thing - to do would have been to perform genetic testing and, if Shawn were the father, turn the baby over to him. But that is not what happened.
In fact, Samantha, LDS Family Services, the Hesses and the hospital all worked hand in glove to keep the baby from Shawn. That included the hospital's designating Samantha a "no information" patient. That meant that the hospital could only release information about the baby to people Samantha approved. Needless to say, that did not include Shawn. Despite knowing of Shawn's intentions, the Hesses took the baby boy back to Idaho, Samantha signed a relinquishment of her parental rights and presumably, LDS got paid.
But Shawn was not deterred so easily. He filed the correct forms with the Texas Paternity Registry within the 30 days alotted him. He talked to several attorneys, contacted the FBI and even wrote a letter to the governor.
Eventually LDS and the Hesses sued Shawn to terminate his parental rights and Shawn countersued to establish paternity and to be managing conservator of the child. (In Texas, "managing conservator" means the parent with physical custody of the child; "possessory conservator" means the parent with visitation rights.)
Despite finding that Shawn is the child's father, the trial court ruled against him, but the appellate court reversed that ruling. The child is now four years old. In reading the case, notice how LDS seems to have intentionally delayed almost every step of the process. That's because in adoption cases, often courts simply rule that, due to the length of the court proceedings, the child has bonded with the adoptive parents and, therefore, whatever the father's rights may be, they are superseded by the best interests of the child. Clearly, that's what LDS and the Hesses were counting on in this case, but, as of now, at least, it didn't work.
But as I said earlier, it's not over yet. Instead of reversing the lower court and rendering judgment for Shawn, the court ordered another trial in the same court that ruled against Shawn in the first place. We'll see how that goes.
In the meantime, read the court's opinion and notice the behavior of all parties who were bound and determined that this adoption would take place regardless of the father's rights and wishes.
And again, as in all these adoption matters, there are far fewer qualified parents who want to adopt than there are children who need adopting. So where adoption is forced on a child who has a father who is ready, willing and able to care for it, another child, somewhere in the world, who needs adoption, is denied loving adoptive parents.
That very result, which so often occurs, was barely avoided here. And it was only avoided because of the dogged persistence of Shawn and his mother who managed to overcome the disgraceful conduct of Samantha, LDS, the Hesses and the hospital