Two couples fight for right to claim child as their own

By Pamela Manson
The Salt Lake Tribune

Article Last Updated: 09/05/2007 11:18:15 AM MDT

LOGAN - In Utah, hopeful adoptive parents call the toddler from China Amanda. In Kansas, another pair of longing parents know her as Amelya. As she approaches her third birthday, both couples are battling to make the girl their own.

On one side are Scott and Karen Banks, Wellsville residents who are accused in an unrelated federal indictment of tricking parents in Samoa into placing their children for adoption through their agency.

On the other side are Mary Frances and Curry Kirkpatrick, of Overland Park, Kan., who claim they were pressured by the Bankses into placing their adopted daughter outside their home in what they believed would be a temporary arrangement.

"They have our baby," Mary Frances Kirkpatrick said. "They want her for themselves." 

The Bankses and their attorney, Ann Wassermann, have declined to comment.

Mary Frances Kirkpatrick now flies to Utah each week to see the girl for about four hours. Her husband sometimes remains behind to take care of their four children in Kansas. Other times, they arrange for around-the-clock care of the kids, youngsters who are ages 6 and 4 and twins almost 2 years old. 

The newest member of the family, named after Mary Frances' mother, came into their lives in 2005. The Kirkpatricks had their two older children when they began the adoption arrangements through Focus on Children, an agency operated by the Bankses.

Before the process was completed, Mary Frances became pregnant with the twins. Curry flew to China in December 2005 to pick up their new daughter while his wife remained at their suburban Kansas City home nursing the newborns.

Curry Kirkpatrick describes the 10 days he spent in China with the girl, then 14 months old, as "a magical time." The adoption was finalized before they flew back home, he says.

At first, life in Overland Park was going well, but then the toddler began exhibiting "destructive behavior" toward the twins, according to the Kirkpatricks. After six months of dealing with the situation, they decided - allegedly on the recommendation of the Bankses - that a temporary separation would be best.

The Wellsville couple came and took the girl to Utah in June 2006, the Kirkpatricks say, and refused to give her back at their request a few weeks later.

Instead, the Bankses filed two petitions in 1st District Court: one to adopt the girl they named Amanda and another alleging the Kirkpatricks should not get her back because they abandoned her.

The couple denies the allegation. Their Salt Lake City attorney, Steven Kuhnhausen, says the voluntary guardianship agreement expired as soon as the Kirkpatricks said they wanted the toddler back.

In addition, the Bankses, whose Focus on Children agency has ceased operations in Utah, lacked a child placement license permitting them to take the girl out of Kansas, Kuhnhausen said.

At a hearing last week, 1st District Judge Gordon Low, who was assigned the adoption case, expressed hope that the matter can be settled quickly. A home study is under way.

The adoption petition is on hold until the abandonment claim, which is before 1st District Juvenile Court Judge Jeffrey Burbank, is settled. In the meantime, Low - who retired from the bench Friday and will pass along the adoption matter to another jurist - laid down the law to the litigants.

For now, the girl will remain with the Bankses and the Kirkpatricks will continue to have once-a-week visitation. The parties are prohibited from talking about each other to the child "except in glowing terms."

Low also ordered everyone to call the girl Amanda to keep her from getting confused. The judge stressed that the arrangements are meant to minimize any trauma for her.

"My focus is on the welfare of the child," Low said. "This child's in a difficult situation."

pmanson@sltrib.com

Utah couple awaits trial for adoption fraud allegations

Wellsville residents Scott and Karen Banks, who are in a dispute over custody of a toddler from China, are the owners of Focus on Children, a nonprofit adoption agency that ceased operations in Utah earlier this summer. A federal grand jury issued an indictment in February charging FOC, the Bankses and five agency employees with fraud and immigration violations. The indictment alleges that the defendants tricked and coerced Samoan birth parents into giving their children to the agency for adoption, then falsely told adoptive parents that the youngsters were orphans. The defendants have denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty. They are free pending trial.

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