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Oh Baby, What A Mess Parents Make! : Can't someone bring some common sense to custody cases?

June 25, 1995

Baby Richard, ripped from the only parents he had known for four years, is now in a new home with his birth parents. He is there to stay because the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by his adoptive parents. The high court's action ends this sad custody dispute, but it does nothing to discourage these harmful tugs of war.

Such harm can be prevented by new laws that protect the child while balancing the competing rights of the biological parents and the adoptive parents. Birth parents should be allowed to change their minds, but only within a reasonable time.

Babies need stable, permanent homes. Adoption disputes should be resolved in months, not years. Speed is needed to avoid the emotional trauma that can result when a child becomes attached to adoptive parents and then is given to biological parents who, to the child, are strangers.

A good model is the Uniform Adoption Act, which was developed by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. The act, though imperfect, puts the interest of the child first. It requires both birth parents to consent to adoption. Biological mothers would have eight days to change their minds; biological fathers would have 30 days.

Fathers who could not be found would have six months to contest the adoption of their child. This section of the law would resolve disputes like the messy custody case of Baby Richard.

When Richard's mother was pregnant, she was abandoned by the man who fathered the baby and she was subsequently told by one of his relatives that he had married someone else. That proved to be untrue. When the baby was four days old, she willingly gave him up, falsely saying the father was unknown. Two months later when the father reappeared, she told him that his son had been born dead. Subsequently the man learned the truth and began seeking custody.

The adopted parents told no lies, broke no laws and did nothing wrong. They had no way of knowing of the birth mother's deceit. Like all loving parents, they fought for their child. They lost; so did Baby Richard.

Baby Richard's biological parents won, but what did they really win? They got the right to raise their child, but is he really theirs after spending four years with his adoptive family?

Adoption is supposed to provide a permanent and secure home for children whose parents chose not to raise them. Adoption provides an option to abortion. Birth mothers and fathers have their rights, but the well-being of the child must prevail.

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