A Mobile man is continuing a three-year fight to regain custody of his son, who was placed for adoption without his knowledge after his ex-wife faked the child’s death in 2013.
The case is another disputed adoption overseen by Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis and attorney Donna Ames — both of whom were involved in the adoption of Kimberly Rossler’s son, Elliott, which gained national attention last year.
In the present case, Daniel Williams is contesting the adoption of his son, Xander, who turned 3 years old last week. Williams and Xander’s mother, who he declined to name, had been married but conceived the child after their divorce was finalized.
Williams said at the time there was some talk of remarrying, but in any case he always intended to be a father to their child — paying for clothes, prenatal care and other expenses related to the pregnancy.
“We even did a gender reveal at a men’s league softball game,” Williams told Lagniappe. “She came with pink balloons, which as it turns out, was a slight deception because all the clothes inside the bag she had were little boy’s.”
Unbeknownst to Williams, Xander was born in June 2013 while he was working out of town, but Williams said Xander’s mother called to inform him their son had died during childbirth because of an “overdose of Pitocin” — a drug used to induce contractions during labor.
“I was disappointed and brokenhearted. I can remember feeling this emptiness inside,” Williams said. “It wasn’t that cut and dry, but at the time I remember thinking, ‘I guess we’ll have to move on.’”
Williams took a job in Colorado, and the next time he heard anything about his son was when an attorney for the Alabama Department of Human Resources called to get his consent for an adoption.
“I get a call from her saying, ‘your son has been placed up for adoption,’” Williams said. “I told her, ‘my son Xander is dead.’”
Williams said he returned to Mobile, “lawyered up” and began his attempts to stop the adoption already in process. As with all adoptions in Alabama, the case files are sealed and aren’t accessible to the public or media.
However, after Davis granted the adoption, Williams appealed his case. The decision was reversed and sent back to probate court last October. In doing so, the appellate court’s public response openly discusses the once-private probate case.“The undisputed evidence at trial showed that the mother gave birth to the child at a Mobile hospital while the father was away for work,” the opinion reads. “The mother concealed the birth of the child from the father, and, after several days, she misrepresented to the father that the child had died shortly after his birth and that she was going to have the remains of the child cremated, going so far as to produce a fake death certificate to support her lie.”
It continues to say the mother testified she “coaxed [Williams] into moving to Colorado.” While he was out of town, an important 30 days was passing — the window of time “alleged fathers” have to sign the Putative Father Registry in order to secure the right to be notified of adoption proceedings.
Williams is represented by attorney Scott Hunter, who said “the Putative Father Registry Act was intended to be a shield for adoptive parents, but was used as a sword against” his client.
The Court of Appeals determined it is “undisputed that the father did not file a notice of intent to claim paternity” within the 30-day time limit. While Williams maintained his “failure to register” should be excused because of the “mother’s misconduct,” that issue wasn’t considered when he challenged the adoption in probate court.
At trial in 2014, Davis stated “the primary issue” was whether the mother and the father had entered into a common-law marriage, and according to the public record, “the father did not object to that characterization.”
It was “undisputed that [Williams] acknowledged his paternity of the child and was excited about the birth.” However, Davis ordered the adoption based on the determination that Williams and Xander’s mother “had not been common-law married,” which left him with no standing to contest the adoption.
With regard to the deception used to convince Williams his son had died, the court determined that issue wasn’t formally raised until Davis’ ruling was appealed. In its opinion, the court concluded the “probate court’s judgment cannot be reversed for the failure to do something [it] was never asked to do.”
Instead, the reversal of judgment was centered on the probate court’s failure to determine whether Williams “grasped his constitutionally protected opportunity interest” based on actions prior to Xander’s birth and the actions he took afterward to protect his legal relationship with his son.
With the case remanded to probate court, the appellate court instructed Davis to “consider any indications of the unwed father’s commitment to the child” including “any actions taken by the mother intended to thwart” their relationship.
The appellate court’s opinion was appealed again to the Alabama Supreme Court, where a ruling is still pending, although according to Hunter, it could come down relatively soon. In the meantime, Williams said he remains “optimistically pessimistic” about the situation.
“I thought I was within a few days of having my son back when they sent the appeal off, so it felt like a gut punch … kind of takes the wind out of your sails,” he said. “Sometimes it keeps me up at night, and sometimes I let it bother me more than it should. I guess that’s a good thing.”
When asked about the case, Ames acknowledged working with the birth mother to facilitate the adoption by introducing her to an adoptive couple who hired her. She denied any wrongdoing on her part.
Currently, Xander is in the care of the adoptive parents, whose identity and location were not revealed in the accessible court documents. Hunter also said there’s no indication anyone other than the birth mother was “culpable or had knowledge of” efforts to conceal the adoption.
Because of the nature of the case, officers of the probate court declined an opportunity to comment and said Davis could not comment either.
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