Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Justin: Custody settlement

End litigation

Last week's settlement offer by the Kentucky birth parents of 6-year-old Justin Moore raised hopes that the two-state custody battle could finally be ended without further disruption of the boy's life.

Regina Moore and Jerry Dorning still do not want to surrender parental rights, but have signaled they would be agreeable to letting Justin remain with adoptive parents Cheryl and Richard Asente in Girard, Ohio, where the boy also lives with his 7-year-old biological brother, Joey.

The two sets of parents should do what's best for both boys, and not let Justin's fate hang in doubt for years of additional hearings and appeals. Settle it quickly - once and for all.

The courts already awarded Moore and Dorning visitation rights with Justin during appeals. Their attorney says they would settle for some ongoing schedule of visits. The Asentes say they have no problem with visits with the birth parents "as long as it's healthy interaction."

But the Asentes deserve reasonable assurances that Moore and Dorning will not be allowed to reassert a claim to custody any time in the future and throw the Ohio family's lives again into turmoil. The Asentes first adopted Joey without incident. When Moore was pregnant with Justin, she approached the Asentes and they agreed to adopt this child, too. But after Justin's birth in February 1997, Moore and Dorning changed their minds and decided to keep him. By November they had changed their minds again and arranged for adoption.

After Justin's placement with the Asentes, Moore and Dorning changed their minds yet again in March 1998, wanted him back and said they did not understand placement was final. So began five years of two-state litigation. Moore and Dorning are not married to each other.

Last month, the Kentucky Supreme Court agreed the birth parents did not understand adoption had been finalized, but ruled Kenton County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Summe erred in not granting the Asentes standing. Justin's case was sent back to the trial court for another custody hearing - based this time on the boy's best interests. More litigation and uncertainty aren't in Justin's best interest. Let him get on with his life in Northeast Ohio.

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