Adopted baby handed over to biological father
Just before noon Saturday, Brad and Jennifer Ballard gave their adopted son a bath, fed him breakfast and dressed him for the ride to the Grass Valley Assembly of God church to say goodbye.
In a bag, they placed Nathaniel Ballard’s favorite blanket, a stuffed frog and some pajamas before sending the infant into a new, unknown world.
For much of the boy’s life, the Nevada City couple had been fighting a battle for Nathaniel, a protracted legal tussle that began days after the boy was born to an unwed mother in a Yuba City hospital.
With members of the church, both sets of Nathaniel’s would-be grandparents and an attorney present, the Ballards handed the boy over to his biological father Saturday at the church, ending months of court proceedings and a transition time acclimatizing the infant to his new family.
The transition was sealed last month after Nevada County Superior Court Judge Carl F. Bryan II ordered the boy returned to his natural father, Casey Johnson, 25, of Marysville. Bryan’s ruling affirmed an earlier ruling made by former Superior Court Judge M. Kathleen Butz, who ruled Johnson had proven his worthiness as a father to his son.
The Ballards, who adopted Nathaniel through a private attorney, are crafting a law that would provide for a court-appointed child advocate and other safeguards to prevent last-minute challenges to private adoption proceedings.
State Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, has agreed to review the language for the proposed “Nathaniel’s Law.” The Ballards maintain they are better suited to care for Nathaniel, whose father was convicted of felonies in 2001 and 2002.
Johnson’s attorney, John Edwards of Marysville, could not be reached for comment. In the past, Edwards has said that the Ballards, in conducting a private adoption transaction with the birth mother, Martina Summers, did nothing to include his client in the proceeding.
The Ballards plan to appeal the ruling made by Butz, a move that could take up to a year. Brad Ballard said there’s almost no chance he’ll see Nathaniel before then.
“I’ve lost my grandfather, but I’ve never lost anyone that I’ve had daily contact with,” he said, comparing the loss of Nathaniel to that of a death of a loved one.
“This is harder because there are so many questions – we don’t know if he’s crying at night, if he’s wanting Mom or Dad – there’s just a lot of questions.”
The future, Brad Ballard said, seems unimaginable.
“He was supposed to be my little fishing buddy,” Brad Ballard said Thursday, one day after the couple returned from visiting their adopted daughter’s grandparents.
Brad and Jennifer Ballard adopted 5-year-old Riley because the couple is unable to conceive children. Riley has insisted her brother’s room remain as it was the day he left. Brad Ballard keeps a pair of Nathaniel’s socks stuffed in a pocket as a reminder. He said his daughter is undergoing counseling to cope with the change in her life.
Ballard said he asked Nathaniel’s birth father if he would be willing to work out a visitation schedule, which Johnson declined upon his attorney’s advice.
“There’s nothing we can do,” said Jennifer Ballard, who has received hundreds of e-mails and calls from across the country in response to the family’s plight. “It touches my heart that people care, and they don’t even know us.”
Ironically, Jennifer Ballard said, Johnson said he understood how Jennifer Ballard felt in returning Nathaniel, but that Johnson had a right to his son.
While they continue fighting for Nathaniel, the Ballards say they have plans to adopt children from outside the United States in the future.
“I just don’t trust birth parents here,” Jennifer Ballard said. “How can I?”
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