When Sharon Pierce learned that her son had gotten someone pregnant, she knew the situation wouldn’t be ideal.
By the numbers
Adoption statistics are difficult to come by because of laws
sealing records from public view. In 2002, a National Council for
Adoption survey indicated that South Carolina had one of the highest
rates of private adoptions nationwide. Here are the top 10 from that
survey, the number of private adoptions for each state and the total
number of adoptions.
Texas: 1,647 (8,393)
Michigan: 1,530 (5,847)
New York: 1,028 (10,079)
Massachusetts: 807 (2,722)
Indiana: 679 (3,681)
Ohio: 666 (5,866)
South Carolina: 620 (1,648)
California: 610 (10,708)
Missouri: 557 (3,701)
Illinois: 531 (7,650)
The future parents were teenagers in high school.
Pierce still embraced having a
little one around, and at least initially, so did her son. But his
girlfriend wasn’t ready, so she sought an adoption agency’s help.
happened during the months leading to the birth of Pierce’s
granddaughter would leave her and her son frustrated, confused and
overcome with sadness — emotions that critics of private adoptions think
should prompt a closer look at the attorneys and agencies who operate
in that field.
of them blame South Carolina laws that first attracted notoriety in the
1980s, when Charleston became known as a haven for couples nationwide
seeking easy adoptions.
Pierce set up a nursery in her James Island home, she said attorneys
and the adoption agency started pressuring her son. They convinced him
and his girlfriend that they were too young, that they couldn’t care for
a child. A pre-adoptive couple from Spartanburg paid the expectant
after the girl was born in January 2007, she left a West Ashley
hospital. Across the street, she was handed to the Spartanburg couple’s
representatives outside a Lowe’s Home Improvement store.
Pierce’s son mounted a challenge to the adoption. During that time,
Pierce and her family cared for the girl for a few weeks until they gave
in. Her son eventually signed over any claim to the child — a move he
wined and dined (the parents) into hating us and believing that we were
not good enough to raise this child,” Pierce said. “Now we see it
happening to other families.”
adoptive parents’ attorney said Pierce’s claims of coercion and
deception were unfounded and that she and her son willingly agreed to
settle. But the battle over 4-year-old Veronica and a new dispute over a
4-month-old named Desaray have stirred talk of similar accusations
being rampant in other private adoptions. Both of those cases center on
children with American Indian blood and the federal law that makes them
more difficult to adopt.
the larger issue, according to skeptics, is the allegation that some
birth mothers, agencies and attorneys conceal adoptions and prevent
birth fathers from asserting parental rights.
it comes to Indian children, legal observers said attorneys have been
emboldened by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that Veronica’s father
hadn’t helped her mother during pregnancy and therefore couldn’t use the
Indian Child Welfare Act to gain custody. Desaray’s case could be the
first one that tests that precedent.
of the private agencies operate with a Christian-themed mission to
provide a future for babies born to parents who cannot properly care for
looking to adopt in such situations often pay birth mothers’ medical
and living expenses — the cost of a private adoption can range from
$5,000 to $40,000 or more. Precise statistics today are difficult to
come by because of laws that shroud adoptions in secrecy.
But the payouts also raise outsiders’ suspicions of the role money plays in adoption.
of the contentious adoptions have included the same cast of characters —
many of whom have been in the business for decades and some of whom
have gained notice during their careers.
Fletcher Thompson of Spartanburg, the attorney for the couple who
adopted Pierce’s granddaughter, has represented Matt and Melanie
Capobianco of James Island in recent litigation regarding Veronica. He
said Pierce’s accusations were disproved during litigation.
birth mom is very positive about her experience,” Thompson said. “She
speaks to other birth moms about how adoption was the right decision.”
attorney Raymond Godwin has borne the brunt of the scrutiny as the
attorney for the Capobiancos and for the couple seeking to adopt
Desaray. He also is married to the director of the private agency that
handled Veronica’s adoption.
of the critical barrage, Godwin said, results from ignorance of the
law. States like South Carolina give few rights to unwed fathers not
profoundly involved with the child and the mother.
Godwin and other adoption attorneys often prevail in court.
is a misconception that a birth father must sign a legal document in
order for an adoption to be accomplished,” Godwin said. “Just because
the birth father is a sperm donor and has that biological link does not
under the law establish his parental rights.”
Laura Beauvais-Godwin thinks any struggling pregnant woman should determine her child’s fate.
director of the Greenville office of Nightlight Christian Adoptions,
Beauvais-Godwin steers women toward what she considers one of the best
options — adoption — over one she doesn’t support — abortion.
the 10 states nearest to South Carolina’s population, only one —
Oklahoma — has fewer private adoption agencies, according to the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services. Oklahoma has nine, compared
with South Carolina’s 10.
a 2002 survey by the National Council for Adoption listed the Palmetto
State as seventh for the number of private-agency adoptions. They
accounted for 620 of 1,648 domestic adoptions that year.
finds mothers through websites, word of mouth and advertisements in the
Yellow Pages. It provides counseling and teaching, home studies of
prospective adoptive parents or, as in Veronica’s case, background
checks of the birth mothers. The agency had no role in Desaray’s
adoption, Beauvais-Godwin said.
The agency collects fees for its services from the adoptive parents, who also are permitted by law to pay the mothers’ expenses.
she decides to parent, she’s going to be living in a life of poverty,”
Beauvais-Godwin said. “Oftentimes, birth fathers do not support them or
Those costs include down payments on housing or a vehicle, rental fees, food and utility bills, Beauvais-Godwin said.
of forceful tactics, in which agencies convince mothers that they don’t
have the resources to care for the child, that have given rise to
complaints of such “shotgun adoptions.”
In online reviews, former clients of some Christian adoption agencies commonly complain of lies and manipulation.
reviewer from California alleged that she paid $4,000 to the group
Beauvais-Godwin founded 15 years ago, Carolina Hope Christian Adoption
Agency, to facilitate her adoption of a South Carolina child. Nightlight
absorbed Carolina Hope in 2009.
birth mom felt so bullied by them that eventually she refused to take
their calls,” the woman wrote on AdoptionAgencyRatings.com. “We paid for
that, financially and emotionally.”
adoption, she said, eventually fell through, and she was out the $4,000
and another $14,000 she had spent for travel to South Carolina.
Nightlight has fared better in other critiques.
One reviewer praised the agency, which has offices in four states, for making “our dream of a family a reality.”
adoptions fall through, Beauvais-Godwin said, clients can feel wronged.
But some of the criticism recently has perplexed her.
don’t even know where it’s coming from,” she said. “We don’t steal
babies. We have to be honest, but people don’t have to be honest on
blogs and Facebook.”
In the adoptions of Veronica and Desaray, critics say dubious circumstances are at the heart of their concerns.
denying the Capobiancos’ first appeal, the S.C. Supreme Court noted the
birth mother’s apparent attempts to conceal the adoption.
Maldonado first indicated on a form her hesitancy to identify the
father, Dusten Brown, because of his ties to the Cherokee Nation. When
she went to an Oklahoma hospital to give birth, Maldonado was on
“strictly no report” status, preventing inquirers like Brown from
learning that she had been admitted.
didn’t find out about the adoption until four months later. By then, he
hadn’t helped the mother. His earlier attempts to marry Maldonado
weren’t sufficient under state laws to establish paternal rights as an
Jeremy Simmons wanted to marry the woman who gave birth to Desaray in
May. But she disappeared shortly after getting pregnant, according to
Simmons’ attorney, and later resurfaced married to someone else. Simmons
didn’t have a chance to support her, the attorney said.
But state laws have high standards for an unwed man to achieve fatherhood.
The couple could marry, the man could live with the woman for six months before birth, or he could handle prenatal expenses.
these agencies and lawyers get the birth mother on the hook ... they
tell these birth moms not to answer any calls from the dads,” said
Shannon Jones, the Charleston attorney who represents Simmons and Brown.
“Of course, then they argue the dad is a deadbeat.
“It usually wins the day.”
Success with that argument is apparent for Godwin and other South Carolina attorneys who specialize in adoption.
In 2006, Godwin successfully appealed an order blocking a South Carolina couple’s adoption of an Illinois girl.
birth mother refused to name the father when she signed documents
consenting to South Carolina’s jurisdiction. The father later pursued
custody, as did the mother when she changed her mind. She argued that
she consented to the adoption before a 72-hour waiting period after the
birth, which is required by Illinois law, had elapsed.
most states, South Carolina has no waiting period. Birth mothers can
sign over custody at any time and can retract their consent only if they
another case five years later, a teenage would-be father offered the
teen he impregnated $100, bought her some clothes and fixed her car. But
he didn’t go far enough in supporting the teen, the S.C. Supreme Court
said, and couldn’t block an adoption.
Adoption attorneys insist that the law is on their side.
mothers, Godwin said, are referred to him by pastors, hospitals,
attorneys and businesses that advertise for pregnant women.
He then offers the services of his wife’s agency. The financier is typically a pre-adoptive couple.
Veronica’s case, the Capobiancos paid for Godwin’s fees, Nightlight’s
services and the birth mother’s attorney. A judge signed off on it.
an attorney working with the birth mother and the adoptive couple runs
contrary to ethics guidelines of some state bar associations. In an
informal opinion in 1989, the American Bar Association also said an
attorney independent of the agency is a “key component to an ethical
But the S.C. Bar has no such requirement.
Though most of his adoptions are “emotional roller-coaster rides,” Godwin said, they are often finalized without a hitch.
would be easy for the average couple who are looking to adopt to draw
conclusions that ... most adoptions are filled with land mines after
reviewing (recent cases),” he said. “Nothing could be further from the
defended Desaray’s removal from Oklahoma, where the girl’s father and
the Absentee Shawnee Tribe have challenged the adoption.
noted that the mother agreed to South Carolina’s jurisdiction when the
girl was born in May. The Irmo couple trying to adopt Desaray has
followed state laws, Godwin said, even though they didn’t secure the
same interstate compact approval that the Capobiancos got before leaving
Oklahoma with Veronica.
such as Shawnee attorney Charles Tripp of Owasso, Okla., have argued
that the baby was removed secretly, that neither the tribe nor the
father got proper notice of the proceedings. An Oklahoma judge has since
ordered Desaray’s return to the Sooner State, but Godwin is fighting
the move in South Carolina.
have to wonder how wide this practice is,” Tripp said. “After the U.S.
Supreme Court decision (in the Veronica case), maybe people see South
Carolina as some adoption safe haven to get children to.”
To Thomas Lowndes, Tripp’s gripe rings a bell.
Charleston attorney has worked in adoption law for 47 years, so the
Veronica case wasn’t the first in which he stumbled across controversy.
He represents the girl’s guardian ad litem, who supports placement with
His business partnerships 30 years ago helped South Carolina earn its name as an adoption mecca.
the late 1970s, New York adoption attorney Stanley Michelman was
indicted on 192 federal charges. Newspapers referred to him as the
“kingpin in the baby-selling business.”
But Michelman was acquitted, and he later partnered with Lowndes to handle private adoptions.
clients often would fly to South Carolina so they could adopt children
here, where laws were considered favorable. Lowndes would handle the New
Yorkers’ court obligations here.
1984 Time magazine article referred to Charleston as a “notorious baby
bazaar ... a welcome haven for couples anxious to secure a child.”
But Lowndes said his adoptions then and now were done “by the book.”
laws are sound, he said, when it comes to guarding the rights of
everyone involved, including fathers. If a pregnant woman shuts a
would-be dad out of her life, Lowndes said, he should file with the
state’s putative father registry in which men can assert parental rights
over any child resulting from their sexual relationships.
of private adoptions see a need for reform. Tripp, the Shawnee
attorney, and an Oklahoma state representative want an investigation.
As a childhood adoptee, Tripp supports the concept, but he called for more transparency among attorneys and agencies.
they’re not doing anything wrong, then I don’t think they would have a
problem letting people see what they are doing,” Tripp said. “But I see
them actively trying to go around the law.”
University of South Carolina law professor Marcia Zug, laws governing
the termination of a father’s rights, she said, make an adoption here
“easier than in many states.” She also noted the need for a waiting
period after a birth in which mothers can revoke their consent.
“I don’t like this back-door, don’t-tell-him-about-it approach,” Zug said. “And there’s just a whole bunch of those cases.”
executive director of the Donaldson Adoption Institute, a New
York-based nonprofit, Adam Pertman said laws should add more openness.
out people with a stake in an adoption only creates more problems that
drag out adoption proceedings — something that Pertman said isn’t in a
child’s best interests.
a system that deep-sixes the rights of birth moms and dads,” said
Pertman, himself an adoptive parent. “We give lip service to the best
interests of the child, then we do things that constantly prove that the
adoptive couple are the only people we’re concerned about.”
than six years after Pierce’s granddaughter went to live in the
Upstate, she still sees the effect that the adoption had on her son.
seen the girl “once or twice,” she said, since the adoption. The visits
lasted about an hour — too short to be meaningful, she said.
Pierce still clings to the toys that the baby once played with and the clothes she once wore.
Her son dropped out of high school after the adoption. He never graduated.
“To this day,” she said, “we still can’t get over it.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.
If these adoption attorneys and agencies were really operating ethically and wanted what was best for all parties involved then they wouldn't have any problem giving women 6 or more weeks after birth to make sure they still want to go ahead with the adoption. They would also want fathers to be involved and to get their full cooperation with the relinquishment. The fact that they don't proves beyond any doubt that they are just looking for money out of shotgun adoptions. Adoption agencies and attorneys know that if mothers have more time and fathers are fully informed that there will be far fewer children given up for adoption.ReplyDelete
I truly fear for any children placed through these legalized kidnappers. I wouldn't trust them for a minute to thoroughly investigate prospective adoption parents. Who knows what types of homes they are placing these children into? Mrs. Bixler is 55 to 59 years old and Mr. Bixler is 60 to 64 years old. These people are grandparent age, not appropriate for a newborn like Baby Desirai.
Thank you Robin. I agree pregnant parents need time to make the best decision and sadly the adoption industry preys on them.Delete
The only good to come out of these horrific Oklahoma/South Carolina stories is that I found your blog :)ReplyDelete
Thank you and we will keep educating about adoptees who are American Indian - as long as possible!Delete
I wonder if Jessica Munday, the Cruella di Vil of adopted children and owner of Trio Solutions is going to launch the same tirade against the father of Baby Deserai as she did against Dusten Brown. Munday recently sent an email to all Capobianco supporters who signed a petition to abolish ICWA. Munday and Melanie Duncan (Melanie Capobianco) started the Coalition for the Protection of Indian Children and Families or CPICF in 2012 to campaign for greater access of Indian children through white adoptions. As an anti-treaty rights group cloaked as a children's welfare organization, CPIFC attempts to diminish or destroy tribal sovereignty.ReplyDelete
Yes, you are correct and their lobbying to abolish ICWA has been noted by other tribal organizations. In the 1990s, some hoped to end ICWA but a few Senators put their foot down and said NO. I don't imagine this "Protection" group is going to stop now.Delete
I am not sure how this will proceed with Baby Desaray and publicity.