Hallelujah! Sometimes courts get it right and the Baby Vanessa case is one of those cases. This is hopefully the end of a three year custody battle over a two-year-old girl that involved the rights of adoptive parents, fathers’ rights and the best interest of the child. Vanessa’s birth mother, Andrea Conley, placed Vanessa for adoption with Stacey Doss without the knowledge or consent of the infant’s father, Benjamin Mills, in violation of his parental rights.
Conley and Mills had a long and problematic relationship that produced two other daughters who live with Mills’ mother, their foster parent. All of Mills four children live in foster care. Mills, who has multiple domestic violence convictions, assaulted Conley before Vanessa’s birth. Prior to the birth of Vanessa, Mills was arrested for beating, strangling and dragging Conley by the hair while she held one of their other children. Mills had been jailed in the past for domestic violence and child endangerment. Conley, for what appears to be good reason, did not want Mills to know about Vanessa and supported Vanessa’s adoption by Doss throughout the process.
And this has been a lengthy complicated legal process involving not simply a contest between the biological and adoptive parent, but jurisdictional issues between the state of Ohio where Mills lives and California where Doss lives. Doss, a self-employed single parent paid for all of her legal costs whereas taxpayers in both California and Ohio are footing the bill for Mills’ legal costs.
During the proceedings Stacey Doss was granted temporary custody while the matter was determined by the Ohio courts, where the child was born and the biological parents live. Many legal analysts suggested that the biological father, Mill, would prevail for the simple reason that parental rights often trump what most others would consider the best interest of the child.
But finally, the dispute ended in Ohio with an agreement granting legal custody of Vanessa to Stacey Doss, the only parent she has ever known, and limited visitation rights to Mills and his mother, Vanessa’s paternal grandmother. The best interest of the child is with Stacey Doss. As an adoptee, I know this. It is not biology that makes one a parent. It is intention and love – the person who cares for the child every day and every night, who makes the sacrifices, who loves unconditionally.
But I suspect that this outcome was based in large part, on the fact that Mills was a particularly unsympathetic figure, actually a rather monstrous figure by all accounts. What if he had been a decent human being? In all likelihood, Vanessa would have been yanked from her home, her mother, her only source of love and security, because parental rights, grounded as they are in antiquated legal concepts where children were considered chattel, or property trumps more abstract concepts like justice and love and compassion.