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DIANNE KLEIN

Who Are the 'Real' Parents in This Case?

July 25, 1993|DIANNE KLEIN | Klein's column appears Sunday

Remember how, way back when during the presidential election campaign, Hillary Rodham Clinton's supposedly radical views on children's rights were an issue? Good and true Americans were said to be shocked--shocked, I tell you.

If I remember the story correctly, the stink had something to do with her legal writings.

Seems that all you had to do was read between the lines to figure out that Ms. Hillary wanted every child in America to keep an attorney on retainer just in case there arose a need to sue one's parents over, say, television viewing hours or not getting enough candy between meals. Quickie child-parent divorces were an option that Hillary was said to embrace.

Anyway, after awhile the electorate apparently got bored with the theatrics of it all--something about the economy, stupid--and, well, you know the rest. George lost, Bill won and Ross caused trouble.

But funny thing about this children's rights issue. It's taken on a life of it's own. As well it should.

The latest fiasco that comes to mind is the case of Jessica DeBoer, soon to be Anna Lee Jacqueline Clausen Schmidt. Every time I am forced to preface a child's name with the words the case of , I cringe. Children and the law haven't been the best of friends.

Jessica's case is prime. Do something that the courts do not: Put yourself in the place of this 2 1/2-year-old child.

The DeBoers, of Ann Arbor, Mich., are your mom and dad. They love you and you love them. They raised you as their own because they believe that you are. You parted company with your biological mother shortly after you were born.

You've never even laid eyes on the sperm donor, albeit one who inseminates the old-fashioned way, who now calls himself your dad.

But the law says that this man's legal rights were violated (they were) when your biological mother allowed the DeBoers to adopt you without so much as giving him the opportunity to say, "Thanks, but I'll pass."

Fact is this guy says that he wants to be a dad, your dad, although his paternal awakening is apparently not being retroactively applied. He has two other children by two other women who he has made no effort to help raise.

So after long court battles in Michigan and Iowa, this guy wins. Barring intercession by the federal courts, you Jessica (a.k.a. Anna Lee) will be turned over to Daniel and Cara Schmidt, the now-married couple who many still insist upon calling your "real" mom and dad.

Why? Because the Iowa Supreme Court, while acknowledging that the sperm donor's parental fitness may be less than stellar, says that his rights have precedence over that of a child he accidentally helped bring into the world.

What this means minus the legalese is simple enough. Children are chattel in the eyes of the law. Hey, maybe we should start branding them like cattle moments after they emerge from the womb?

As it is, their best interest is moot in legal proceedings that will literally determine the course of their lives.

And this Iowa ruling is one that mirrors others across the land.

Marci and Bob Stiglitz of Huntington Beach are a couple who I've written about before. They adopted Timmy at birth, raised him, loved him, and finally when he was 15 months, they were forced to give him up.

His biological mother, who was 15 when she gave birth, who had psychological problems, who had dropped out of school, who . . . I could go on. Well, anyway, she decided that she wanted him back.

A Superior Court judge ruled that Timmy should stay with the Stiglitz family because he was happy and well-adjusted and a future with his mother would likely change all that.

But the appellate court, clearly annoyed at the rash of similar cases it had seen, said: "To repeat, when a natural mother refuses to consent to an independent adoption with a reasonable time after placing the child with prospective adoptive parents . . . the court may not consider whether returning the child to the birth mother will be in the minor's best interests."

And, of course, it was not. The Stiglitzes knew that, and lots of other people did, too. Timmy was abused. His mother's boyfriend was charged on felony counts. This was back in 1991. The Stiglitzes, who have since successfully adopted a daughter from out of state, can do nothing more than pray for Timmy now.

Make no mistake, in a perfect world every child would be nurtured and loved by the parents who gave her birth. Oh, wouldn't we all be happy then!

There would be no such thing as Gregory K., the then-12-year-old Florida boy who successfully sued to divorce himself from his mother and stay with the foster family that he loves.

There would be no such thing as the case of Kimberly Mays, the 14-year-old who was inadvertently switched with another baby at birth. Kimberly's "real" parents now want her back, and they've gone to court. Kimberly says no, that she wants to stay with her dad, the one who raised her, the one who is as real as they come.

Still, Kimberly's biological family hasn't given up, even though they've lost a round in court. They moved to be near her. They want custody or at least visitation rights.

And Kimberly wants nothing of the sort. She's hired her own attorney, the same who represented Gregory K. Kimberly wants her "real" family to get out of her life.

So now back to Hillary, where I started off. You ask me, thinking of children as little human beings, with rights and interests regardless of who their "real" parents are, is hardly a radical idea. It's a notion that is past due.

Because our children are paying the costs.

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