Please Don’t Take My Sunshine Away… a Helmlinger Adoption Update
We recently received a devastating ruling from the second trial of our adoption case which took place in February. Much to our surprise, the Judge ruled in our son’s birth father’s favor. It was our belief that he did not accept responsibility during the pregnancy nor support our son from conception through 22 months of age. The Judge has ordered our son of over 3.5 years be returned to his birth mother despite being in our care since he took his first breath. The birth mother strongly supports our son remaining in our care and she is now the sole legal guardian. The birth father is now determined to fight the birth mother for custody. The thought of a judge dictating where an almost four year old child will spend his life between two birth parents that have angst towards one another and live in completely different states 1200 miles apart is difficult to comprehend on any social or legal basis!
Our expert witnesses at trial testified to the raw facts on how detrimental a transfer of residency and caretakers would be to a child of his age and the severity of brain damage it would cause our son. Not an easy circumstance for any parent to find themselves thinking about… something that has come to mind every night since he was born, as we sing, “you are my sunshine …please don’t take my sunshine away.” The older he has become, the more confident we have become that he is right where God has always intended for him to be. We are his parents and we adopted privately by a birth mom who loves him and wants what is best for him, still staying true to her word and adoption plan to this day. We did not adopt through the foster system. He was loved and wanted and provided for from the minute he was conceived. A licensed psychologist from Miami came to spend two days in our home assessing the bonding and attachment with our son and gave her testimony of such at the trial. To try and take the permanency and stable home environment and his family from our son at almost 4 YEARS OLD is unjust and violates our precious son’s constitutional rights! Yet, this is exactly where we stand today; in disbelief and shock by a judge’s decision that is in the birth father’s favor despite all of his lies and inconsistencies both during the pregnancy and after the birth of our son for a minimum of the first 22 months of his life. The birth father has failed to establish a relationship with him, he failed to pay support or reimburse medical expenses prior to his birth, he failed to establish paternity over and over, and he could have legally stopped the adoption process at any time throughout her pregnancy but he chose not to. He also expressed hatred for us and stated more than once that he did not desire to get to know us or reciprocate the grace we have shown to him in order to protect the child. He is practically a stranger after spending a total of 5 hours together in his entire life that was only for show for the legal case and the thought of him fighting his birth mother for custody and causing our son trauma is not the way a parent would act!
The only action that remains legally is for us to appeal this decision to the appellate court.
Reflecting back on how he arrived here, we do not have regrets. We were involved since very early on in the pregnancy and had months to get to know the birth mother through phone calls and FaceTime. We were present for the 20-week ultrasound in June 2015 when we learned we were going to have a son! Pam even prepared for nursing him by inducing lactation towards the last couple of months of the pregnancy which led to breastfeeding until just before his second birthday.
We went to visit the birth mom for her birthday and attended her 36 week doctor’s appointment. We met her mom at that visit, and enjoyed hiking and walking around campus seeing where she went to college. We arrived on November 1st and we were present for the entire labor and birth, a very long induction of twenty hours for which we stayed awake and waited in anticipation of the greatest gift we have ever received. When he was born at 2:43 am on 11/3/15, Kelly cut the umbilical cord, Pam held him first in order to nurse him and initiate skin to skin contact, and next the birth mother held him in her loving arms. The hospital where he was born was wonderful and we had post-partum rooms across the hall from one another at the very end of the hall, so we would visit often and eat meals together, in awe of the miracle God granted us all.
The birth mother's mom came to visit us in the hospital and meet her beautiful grandson. Once the birth mother was discharged home on Thursday, she resumed classes on Friday. We went to the courthouse where she signed her consent to the adoption and our son was legally placed with us in front of the Judge on 11/6 and met our birth mother’s father and sister for lunch. In March 2016, our birth mom and her mother came to visit for a weekend to spend time with him at 4 months old, see where he lived, would eventually go to school, and attended church with us. On April 13, 2016, we went to trial where the oral argument focused on whether the consent to adoption was required based on the birth father’s actions (or inactions). We received a ruling in our favor on August 12, however the final decree (appealable) was delayed in processing with a date of September 7, 2016, and due to the clerical error, the father’s belated appeal well past the 30 day deadline was accepted by the 12th district court of appeals. The oral argument took place on 12/13/16 and the probate court’s decision was affirmed based on 9 conclusions why the birth father’s consent to the adoption was not required in this case. The birth father then appealed to the Supreme Court; they elected to hear our case after a vote in favor by 5 of 7 Supreme Court Justices. Sadly and much to our dismay, we received a disastrous ruling on July 17, 2017- ruling in his favor and overturned our adoption based on a technicality of the law and lack of definition on willful abandonment. They decided that a putative father only had to sign the registry and have intentions of parenting versus actually carrying any of the burdens that the mother does in pregnancy or take any action to support her.
Next, we pursued an adoption in another state where our birth mother resides because no one was in the prior state any longer and they did not have continuing jurisdiction. Post-birth abandonment had not ever been litigated before, and the law was favorable to our case. In September 2017, the birth father started following the advice of his attorney and requested mediation, began paying a little support and requested visitation when our son was almost two years old. Yet, he delayed the process for many months. He admits later he only came to mediation to see pictures, not with any intent of working out a parenting plan or settling. He eventually came for a 2 day visit over Labor Day weekend of 2018, another year later, manipulated the psychological evaluation that was recommended by the psychologist that he hired, he was cold towards us and hardly interacted with him throughout the visit except for observing, and clearly did not seem interested in parenting. For the first time meeting the child he was so adamant about fighting for, he did not show any emotion besides anger nor seem to have any experience in interacting with a toddler. Throughout the discovery process, he delayed for a year and withheld financial information and even a current address. When the birth father requested pictures, we sent a Christmas card with photos in Dec 2017 and later a photo album full of pictures in March 2018 along with a two-page heartfelt letter. He states neither was ever received and accused us of not confirming that he received them. He admitted that he never forwarded his mail or provided his current address because he wanted to hide from being served court filings. The end of September, just weeks after the birth father’s initial visit with our son, came his deposition. It lasted 17 hours in which he stated he was fighting solely for HIS own rights, NOT the rights or best interest of the child!
Our adopted son had prayed every night for months to have a sibling and when we found out we were expecting for the first time (physically, not on paper) at 38 and 40 years old we were overjoyed, mostly for our son’s sake and the opportunity he would get in taking on the role of big brother. He has adapted beautifully to his new role and takes being a big brother very seriously. They have a special bond already and love to laugh together. We cannot fathom an outcome after all the time we have spent in litigation where our boys do not grow up together and our son be removed from the only home he has ever known after this many years. The Constitution of the United States protects a child’s need for a stable, nurturing, and loving home and from facing this unnecessary harmful trauma that would follow our son for the rest of his life given the recent legal circumstances if this ruling is not reversed!
Please help in any way you can- by praying for our faithful God to change hearts and make a way for our sweet boy, sharing our story, and if you feel compelled to give financially, no amount is too small. We are forever grateful for the army of support we have had to walk this journey with us and trust God's will and provision for our family.