exposing the dark side of adoption
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Swanton dad wins custody of son, 3

State's top court rejects adoption


Although his biological son remains with an Indiana couple seeking to adopt the boy, a Swanton man may be able to bring his almost 3-year-old son home.

The Ohio Supreme Court Thursday said it will not reconsider an earlier decision that allowed Benjamin Wyrembek to have custody of his biological son, Grayson. He has been raised since birth by Jason and Christy Vaughn, of Sellersburg, Ind.

In a 4-3 decision, the high court rejected the Vaughns' motion for reconsideration and lifted the stay it had placed on other court orders in the case, including the order from Lucas County Juvenile Court that required the Vaughns to turn Grayson over to Mr. Wyrembek last month.

Mr. Wyrembek's attorney, Alan Lehenbauer, declined to comment, saying the two sides had agreed in court not to speak to the media.

Mr. Lehenbauer had contended that his client had followed all the appropriate legal procedures to obtain custody of his son after learning a former girlfriend was pregnant with his child. Mr. Wyrembek registered with Ohio's Putative Father Registry and filed a petition in juvenile court to establish paternity and obtain custody of the child.

Still, nearly three years elapsed while he battled in court with the couple who wanted to adopt the child.

"The father of a child who registers with the Putative Father Registry in a timely fashion and who pursues a juvenile court determination of parentage cannot control either the timing of the juvenile court's decision or the timing of the filing of a petition to adopt by prospective adoptive parents," Justice Terrence O'Donnell wrote in the majority opinion. "I would urge juvenile courts to give priority to parentage cases and decide them with dispatch. I would also encourage the General Assembly to carefully scrutinize our case law and revisit these statutes to clarify its intent if contrary to our result," the justice wrote.

Cincinnati attorney Michael Vorhees, who represents the Vaughns, could not be reached for comment.

A Facebook page maintained by friends of the Vaughns indicated that Mr. Wyrembek began visitation with Grayson in Indiana late last month after the two sides agreed to participate in mediation to help resolve the case.

Adoption advocates agreed that the case is an extreme example of what can go wrong, and they fear it is having a chilling effect on potential adoptions.

"I can't tell you how many families I've talked to who want to go international because they don't want to deal with something like this," said Betsie Norris, executive director of Adoption Network Cleveland, a support organization for adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptees. "I tell them this doesn't happen the vast majority of time … and there were things done wrong. You have to be so careful from the beginning that you're working with a reputable agency and reputable attorney, and everyone's going to do everything right and dot every i, cross every t."

In this case, Grayson's birth mother signed a "permanent surrender of child" form on Nov. 1, 2007, just days after giving birth to the baby boy on Oct. 29, 2007, at St. Luke's Hospital. Her husband at the time signed a surrender of custody form Nov. 4, 2007, and listed the reason as, "I am not the biological father."

That along with the fact that Mr. Wyrembek registered with the Putative Father Registry that same month should have raised immediate red flags, Ms. Norris said.

"If he registered with the Ohio Putative Father Registry, that's exactly what the registry is set up to do - not necessarily to say, he registered, here's the baby, but here's a father who's interested," she said. "All of this should be resolved when the child is very, very young."

Pam Kroskie, Midwest regional director for the American Adoption Congress, said adoption should never be a tug-of-war.

"The only person I feel sorry for is the child. The other people are adults," she said. "Somehow these people should've figured out a way [to work this out], especially since they knew the birth father wanted contact."

Jason Vaughn said in a previous interview with The Blade that he and his wife decided to adopt after the birth of their 7-year-old son was followed by a series of miscarriages. Mr. Vaughn said they knew Grayson's biological father opposed the adoption, but he said they felt from the beginning that the law was on their side. Their attorney maintained that Mr. Wyrembek's consent was not required for the adoption to go through because he allegedly had failed to support the child's mother during her pregnancy and the child after he was born.

The adoption "felt uncertain just because we knew it was contested," Mr. Vaughn said last month. "We always thought we would win. The system has just failed."

Justices Paul Pfeifer, Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Maureen O'Connor, also voted to lift the stay. Chief Justice Eric Brown and justices Judith Ann Lanzinger and Robert Cupp dissented.

2010 Oct 8