The battle for baby Vanessa made headlines last week when a local KNBC Los Angeles journalist, Tara Wallis Finestone, got wind of the heartbreaking tug-of-war between the adoptive mother Stacey Doss and birth father Benjamin Mills, Jr. Emotions are running high as a looming July 16 return Vanessa date nears. Doss, while on Good Morning America today, addressed the heart breaking reality of what happens when a California judge punts and lets Ohio rule stand -- despite affording Mills lawyers and resources in California.
Doss adopted Vanessa at birth with the help of an adoption agency. This was a legitimate adoption. Unfortunately the birth mother lied - under penalty of perjury - on the forms when she stated the child was as a result of a "one night stand" and that she had no idea of the birth father's identity.
Before you condemn the birth mom for lying, consider these harrowing facts: Benjamin Mills, Jr. has four other children (none of which he has custody of); he has a child endangerment charge on his record; and he has been imprisoned for domestic violence - once pulling the birth mother so hard by the hair that when the police arrived at the house, they discovered bloody clumps of hair all over the floor. So when the mother could not care for baby Vanessa, do you blame her for not listing this man as the father on the adoption papers?
Baby Vanessa, now two years old, has been ordered to return to Ohio where she will be presumably be cared for by her paternal grandmother, whom she has never met. However, for the time being she has been simply told that foster care is where she will be. Stacey Doss, Vanessa's adoptive mother, was given until July 16 to turn over the child. Doss shared with me today that even Ohio social workers tell her that neither Mills home or the paternal grandmother's home is a place for Vanessa. So why are they doing this to Stacey and her daughter?
When Doss filed a petition of adoption for Vanessa on July 1, 2008, all she wanted was to give Vanessa the love, security and stable, supportive family network that she enjoyed growing up. Since then, Stacey has been engaged in stressful and expensive (to the point of nearly wiping out all her income and potentially losing her home) litigation with the birth father - a convicted felon who resides in Ohio and whose legal fees are being paid by the State of Ohio and the State of California.
Since birth, little Vanessa has lived with the only mother she knows - Stacey Doss - in Southern California. Baby Vanessa has been safe and happy and has an extended family of loving grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins with the Doss family. Stacey is being challenged by the birth father, who is African-American. Toddler Vanessa is bi-racial; and while Stacey is Caucasian, her extended family includes bi-racial children and marriages. The big question is why does the birth father want to uproot Vanessa from her loving home with Stacey? What are his motives?
As a former prosecutor the motives seem clear as day to me. What better way to continue the cycle of violence against the bio mom than to torture her with the decision she made without his permission. According to Doss, after watching a visitation with Mills and Vanessa, he doesn't even want Vanessa in his life (to parent her). As a matter of fact, on his visits to LA he was more "concerned with seeing the sites than visiting with Vanessa," said Doss. Further, when given the choice to sit next to Vanessa or sit up front, he always chose to ride shot gun in the car. Clearly, shot gun (the place of power and control) is where Mills wants to be.
"I ask all decent people from both California and Ohio to help me in this cause, not only to ensure Vanessa stays permanently with the only loving family she has ever known, but to bring situations like this to the attention of the public for all adoptive parents who are fighting a fight like this," said Stacey. "I'm frightened for my daughter and have cried endlessly at the thought of her being taken away from me and placed with complete strangers. How would you feel? In this instance the law has lost its common sense and regard for human decency ... children are not a commodity that you put in a warehouse until a decision is made as to where to place them!" As you can tell, Stacy is distraught and at her wits end with trying to fight the court's bad ruling.
Stacey has said, "Even though this case has been gut wrenching, the decision to adopt Vanessa is still the best decision I ever made." Stacy plans to commit the rest of her life to adoption reform, making it easier, faster and more affordable so that no one suffers needlessly the way she and her daughter have.
Regardless of where you fall on the question of whether an adoptive mom should trump a biological parent - how about considering the best interest of the child? After all, in family court cases that is the exact standard that we use to determine the custody orders of natural parents when there is a divorce. In this case, it's not even a close call. The best interest of this child is with Stacey Doss. And if Benjamin Mills has any decency and really cared for Vanessa he would see that he should spend his energy negotiating how this a difficult situation can be made better instead of asserting power merely to make everyone's life worse off.
For more information, read "The Battle For Vanessa" and the most recent update.