Custody battle has Shelby ties

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Vaughns try to hold onto adopted son

By Lisa King

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A couple in Indiana that is fighting a high-profile custody battle to hang on to the little boy they adopted at birth has roots in the hearts and homes of Shelby County.

Jason and Christy Vaughn adopted Grayson, 3, through an agency, but since the first days after his birth, a man who proved to be the boy’s biological father is trying to take him away.

Christy Vaughn, the daughter of Janice Riggs and Billy Reese -- and stepdaughter of Jon Riggs -- of Shelby County, and Jason, whose father, Edward, owns a farm here, have been in a long legal nightmare in courtrooms in two states, fighting technicalities and emotional turmoil.

On Tuesday, the Floyd County (Ind.) Circuit Court allowed in a 4.5-hour hearing to let Grayson remain with the Vaughns but also scheduled a mediation hearing for next Friday.

The case, which has drawn newspaper headlines and an appearance on Good Morning America, could be headed to the United States Supreme Court.

Jason Vaughn declined to talk to a Sentinel-News reporter before the hearing Tuesday, saying he and his wife were too upset.

 “We are just too torn up right now,” he said. “We may not have our son after tonight [Tuesday].”

Said Jon Riggs: “The system just let us down. All we ask is to have our day in court.”

The court now has the family under a court-imposed gag order, but Edward Vaughn has agreed to tell a story that is a nightmare for any family that has adopted a child.

 “I am just terrified that they will come and take him away,” he said.


Chosen couple

Jason and Christy, who live in New Albany, Ind., have raised Grayson since he was born, and the boy’s biological father, Benjamin Wyrembek of Ohio, has been trying to gain custody of him nearly the entire time.

The Vaughns adopted the boy through an agency, which found a mother in Ohio who was going through a divorce when she became pregnant.

Because the baby was not the husband’s, the couple decided to give him up for adoption, and the woman chose the Vaughns to become her son’s parents.

Christy Vaughn was in the delivery room when Grayson was born, but less than a month after the couple took him home, Wyrembek filed a paternity suit in Ohio, claiming to be the boy’s father.

Paternity was established a year later, and an Ohio probate court ruled that a woman cannot give her child up for adoption if a man has filed a paternity action.

The case wound up in the Ohio Supreme Court, which ruled the boy should be taken immediately to his biological father, but the couple resisted that, claiming that Ohio and Indiana adoption laws had been ignored.


Legal wrangling

Susan Garner Eisenman, an attorney with the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys in Columbus, Ohio, agrees with the Vaughns, saying that in those states, for a father’s rights to supercede those of adoptive parents, certain criteria apply, and she says that Wyrembek does not meet that criteria.

“This father has not offered any support prior to placement,” she said. “He has failed to meet that requirement.”

Eisenman added that Ohio law states that whatever a father’s status is the day a petition is filed, that will be his status until the adoption is resolved.

“After the petition was filed, the father got himself tested and was established as the father. But under Ohio law, that doesn’t count – you have to be established as the father before that petition is filed,” she said.

The Ohio Supreme Court, in a 4-3 vote, decided not to abide by that law, and they decided to allow this father to change his status while the adoption was pending, she said.

Is this legal?

“That’s a good question, and I understand the Vaughns are thinking to ask the United States Supreme Court that same question,” Eisenman said.


One meeting

Edward Vaughn joined his son and his family at a candlelight vigil Thursday night held at Northside Christian Church in New Albany in support of the family.

He said he is appalled about the lack of concern the legal system has shown for the boy’s welfare, and he is upset because the toddler does not even know Wyrembek and has only met him once – a meeting that did not end well, he said.

“In the notorious absence of any hearing as to what is best for Grayson, the Ohio Court has granted custody to a stranger the judge has named the legal father,” he said. “It involves at least three judges reaching into a home and ordering a loving family to give over their three-year-old son to the custody and care of a man the child does not know.”