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Baby Vanessa case revealed flaws in state's parental registry system


MARCH 23, 2011

Baby Vanessa case revealed flaws in state's parental registry system

The following article by Mary McCarty, appeared Saturday, March 19, 2011 in the Dayton Daily News. Read below, or view on the DDN website.

The "Baby Vanessa" custody hearing was, first and foremost, a wrenching personal matter for two families, with the future of a 2-year-old girl at stake.

But it was also an epic legal battle that involved 10 lawyers, eight days in court spread over eight months and an untold number of man hours. Until last Monday, it seemed destined to last several more years.

Then, at the last minute, the parties reached an unexpected settlement giving permanent legal custody to Stacey Doss of California, who has raised Vanessa since birth, while granting visitation rights to her paternal grandmother, Rena Jordan of Middletown.

MARCH 23, 2011

Baby Vanessa case revealed flaws in state's parental registry system

The following article by Mary McCarty, appeared Saturday, March 19, 2011 in the Dayton Daily News. Read below, or view on the DDN website.

The "Baby Vanessa" custody hearing was, first and foremost, a wrenching personal matter for two families, with the future of a 2-year-old girl at stake.

But it was also an epic legal battle that involved 10 lawyers, eight days in court spread over eight months and an untold number of man hours. Until last Monday, it seemed destined to last several more years.

Then, at the last minute, the parties reached an unexpected settlement giving permanent legal custody to Stacey Doss of California, who has raised Vanessa since birth, while granting visitation rights to her paternal grandmother, Rena Jordan of Middletown.

Attorneys for the biological father, Benjamin Mills Jr. of Dayton, believe the custody dispute highlights major flaws in state law regarding the birth father registry.

Under Ohio law, fathers are given 30 days to make a paternity claim through what is known as the Ohio Putative Father Registry. Mills registered on June 25, 2008 — 12 days after Vanessa"'s birth at Miami Valley Hospital and nine days before Doss brought her home to California.

Under current law, an attorney, adoption agency or parent is required to search the registry before an adoption is finalized, but not before the baby is placed in a prospective home. Critics say that can set the stage for a complicated custody battle.

Elizabeth Gorman, attorney for birth father Benjamin Mills Jr., noted, "If the registry had been searched before the baby was taken to California, this would never have happened."

That practice was recently changed, according to Benjamin Johnson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services: "Because of this and other cases, ODJFS staff do a preliminary check of the Putative Father Registry before placing a child. However, it is important to note that this check is not required by statute or by rule. We just feel it is good practice."

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