by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff
(Atlanta, Georgia) The Georgia Court of Appeals has overturned a criminal contempt charge against a woman who was sentenced to 10-days in jail for not handing her daughter over to foster care after she lost custody solely because she’s a lesbian.
The little girl, now aged seven, was eventually returned to Elizabeth Hadaway but the contempt sentence had not been rescinded, although it had been stayed to allow Hadaway to appeal.
The appeals court ruled a year and a day after the lower court judge passed the sentence.
“Just yesterday I was watching Emma hunt for Easter eggs and thinking how the possibility of going to jail and being separated from her again made it hard to just enjoy the moment,” said Elizabeth Hadaway, a 29-year-old paramedic who first took in the little girl when the child’s biological mother asked her to raise and adopt the little girl named Emma.
“I’m just so grateful that the court has lifted this burden so we can move on and I can keep focused on making sure Emma has a happy home and a good life.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented her in the appeal and secured the little girl’s return home from foster care last May, applauded the appeals court decision.
“We’re pleased that the court has agreed with us that Elizabeth Hadaway shouldn’t do jail time simply for doing the right thing for her child, but it’s unfortunate that it’s taken almost two years of court proceedings to end up with things where Elizabeth, Emma, and Emma’s biological mom wanted them to be in the first place,” said Debbie Seagraves, Executive Director of the ACLU of Georgia.
“None of this would have ever happened if the trial court had recognized this child’s needs and not been swayed by misguided beliefs about gay people,” said Ken Choe , a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s national Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project.
“No child should fear being torn away from home just because his or her parents happen to be gay.”
Hadaway was granted legal custody in 2006 and under Hadaway’s care, the child began making great strides in her schoolwork, self-confidence, and emotional well-being.
In January, 2007, Wilkinson County Superior Court Judge John Lee Parrott appeared to be on the verge of granting Hadaway’s request to permanently adopt Emma when he noticed in a home study report that Hadaway was living at the time with her same-sex partner of seven years.
At that point Parrott abruptly denied the adoption, ordering that Emma be sent back to her biological mother.
Hadaway complied and met with the biological mother at a truck stop to hand over the girl.
After accepting custody, the biological mother saw how distraught Emma was at being taken from Hadaway and again insisted that Hadaway should raise the girl, according to court papers.
Hadaway, who had ended her relationship with her partner, then moved with Emma to Bibb County, where she applied in a Bibb County court for custody with the biological mother’s full consent.
Shortly after that Parrott found Hadaway in contempt of his ruling and ordered the little girl be taken from her home to live in foster care in spite of the biological mother’s wishes.
In early April a Bibb County judge then granted custody of the child to Hadaway, after hearing evidence from an expert commissioned by Wilkinson County DFCS to study Emma in her foster home.
The expert found that the little girl is unable to get the individualized attention she needed in her foster home and was experiencing emotional trauma because of the separation from Hadaway.
Nevertheless, the child remained in foster care, with the Division of Family and Children Services uncertain of which judge’s ruling to follow.
In May DFCS agreed that the biological mother’s wishes should be honored, and little Emma was reunited with Hadaway. (story)
The contempt charge against Hadaway remained outstanding, however, and her ACLU attorney filed a motion with the Court of Appeal to have it overturned.
© 365Gay.com 2008