(Dickson, TN) A custody battle resulted in a family getting split up because of what some call a legal glitch. Sonya, 9, is begging to return to the only home she’s ever known.
“You just stay strong,” Sonya’s adoptive father Dave Hodgin said to her in a phone call.
“Everything’s going to be OK.” The call happened Jan. 30, and it was the last time Sonya’s adoptive parents heard her voice.
She had been removed from their home in Tennessee the day before.
Sonya had been in the care of Dave and Kim Hodgin since before she was 2 years old.
They adopted her in 2008.
The couple was thrilled when the adoption became final.
But that joy was short-lived. Sonya’s birth father, John McCaul, is a convicted criminal.
He pleaded guilty to transporting firearms, a felony, and was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.
Under state law, rights were automatically terminated.
No one incarcerated for more than 10 years can have rights to a child who is less than 8 years old.
But before his daughter’s adoption was finalized, he cut a deal and got his sentence reduced to 7 1/2 years.
That deal allowed him to assert his parental rights and fight to reverse the adoption.
“She’s never laid eyes on this man,” Kim Hodgin said. “He’s a total stranger.” That total stranger managed to convince the court to reconsider.
In November 2009, one year and 12 days after she’d been legally adopted, Sonya’s adoption was reversed.
But she continued to live with the Hodgins while both sides fought for custody. Nearly five years later, a juvenile court judge ruled Sonya should be returned to her biological father. “Sonia’s crying her eyes out,” Dave Hodgin said.”Screaming bloody murder, ‘Please don’t let them do this, daddy, please mama don’t let em take me.'”
Just three hours after the judge’s ruling, Sonya was gone.
“They took her bags and that’s the last that I’ve seen her,” Kim Hodgin said. Dave Hodgin asked John McCaul to reconsider.
“I asked him to look into her eyes right now, because obviously he’s standing there, and she’s begging and pleading and crying and it didn’t matter,” Dave Hodgin said. McCaul’s lawyer said that “despite repeated efforts by the foster family to terminate this child’s father’s rights, his parental rights have never been successfully terminated and his daughter has now been returned to his care.”
Sonya’s home now is in Omaha, NE. McCaul is forbidden by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services to speak publicly about the case and Sonya.
In January, the Hodgins recorded a conversation with Sonya.
She described her new life. “It’s just dirty,” Sonya said. “Dirt everywhere; I think there’s even mold.” Kim Hodgin told Sonya to be strong.
Sonya said she didn’t have clean drinking and there was dirt and cigarettes everywhere, but said her father was being nice to her. It’s a recording Dave and Kim Hodgin can’t even bring themselves to listen to.
“Anybody within their right mind would be worried,” Dave Hodgin said. “And yes, we’re terribly worried.”
The Hodgins have filed a petition asking a judge to return Sonya based on what they say is her best interest.
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