Tuesday, February 09, 1999

Judge orders 2-year-old back to biological parents

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cheryl Asente holds Justin, the object of a custody battle, while brother Joseph plays.
(Warren Tribune Chronicle photo)
| ZOOM |
        COVINGTON — A Kenton Circuit Court judge has ordered a 2-year-old boy living with a family in northern Ohio back to the custody of his biological parents in Covington.

        The boy has lived for nearly a year with a Girard, Ohio, couple who previously adopted his 3-year-old brother and wanted to adopt 2-year-old Justin Lee Moore.

        The case is getting national attention and opposition from Hear My Voice of Ann Arbor, Mich., which works for the rights of children in adoption situations.

        “We advocate that Justin has a best interest,” said Debbie Grabarkiewicz, who is working on Justin's case. “We want to promote his right to have a voice. He deserves due proc ess.”

        Judge Patricia Summe ruled Thursday that Justin should be returned to Regina Moore and Jerry Dorning because the unmarried couple did not make an informed decision when they placed Justin with Richard and Cheryl Asente.

        Ms. Moore and Mr. Dorning told the judge they thought they could change their minds up until the final termination hearing. Now a court-appointed guardian must figure out a way to transfer custody by March 17.

        The Asentes, who have cared for Justin since Feb. 17, 1998, say they will appeal the judge's ruling. And they will be in Trumbull County, Ohio, Probate Court on Feb. 23 petitioning for Justin's adoption.

        Glenda Harrison, the birth parents' attorney, declined to comment. Ms. Moore and Mr. Dorning were not home Monday.

        The Asentes could not be reached by phone.

        The case, which could pull apart two brothers by returning one to the biological parents, is intriguing and complicated, as court documents indicate:

        Ms. Moore and Mr. Dorning live in subsidized housing and work low-paying jobs. Mr. Dorning, 28, has five children and is married to another woman, who is the mother of two of his children. He does not plan to get divorced. Ms. Moore, 23, has three children but does not have custody of any of them.

        The Asentes are a middle-class couple. Mr. Asente is a retail manager at a Staples store. Mrs. Asente stays at home with the children. To finance this adoption case the couple took out a second mortgage on their home and depleted their IRA accounts. So far they have spent $83,000 in legal and adoption fees.

        The Asentes adopted Ms. Moore's and Mr. Dorning's older son Joseph in 1995. When Ms. Moore was pregnant with Justin, she called the adoption agency that handled Joseph's case. The Asentes were asked if they would be interested in adopting another child and they agreed.

        A few days after Justin was born, Ms. Moore changed her mind. Justin remained with his parents. When Justin was 9 months old, his parents contacted the Asentes again and asked them to adopt their son. Ms. Moore and Mr. Dorning said in depositions they could not financially care for Justin.

        In December 1997, both families started the adoption process. In January 1998 Ms. Moore and Mr. Dorning signed individual forms consenting to the adoption.

        Under Kentucky law, this consent is irrevocable 20 days after signing the consent forms. That means the decision is deemed final after that time period. But that decision can be challenged in court.

        On Feb. 17, 1998, state agencies in Ohio and Kentucky approved placing Justin with the Asentes. The next month Ms. Moore and Mr. Dorning signed papers to terminate their parental rights. But a few weeks later they changed their minds, asking Judge Summe to cancel the final adoption hearing.

        In August, Justin's birth parents filed a lawsuit to regain custody of their son. Judge Summe ruled in their favor, saying the couple was not fully aware of the decision they made when they signed the consent papers.

        The case has already been to the Kentucky Court of Appeals. The Asentes claimed the Kenton Circuit Court has no jurisdiction in the case because Justin is living in Ohio. The court rejected that motion, allowing Judge Summe to make her ruling.


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