Counteroffer submitted in Ohio-Kentucky adoption dispute

By KRISTEN GELINEAU, Associated Press Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - Parents fighting to regain custody of one of the sons they gave up for adoption would get to see the boy once a month under a proposed settlement from an Ohio couple who wants to keep the boy.
Richard and Cheryl Asente proposed retaining full custody rights to 6-year-old Justin, who they have cared for since 1998, but his birth parents would be granted visitation, according to a child advocate working with the Asentes.
The Asentes' offer is in response to an offer the family received last week from birth parents Regina Moore and Jerry Dorning of Covington, Ky., Debbie Grabarkiewicz, director of Case Advocacy for Hear My Voice, a national nonprofit child advocacy organization, said Wednesday.
Moore and Dorning will receive the Asentes' offer Thursday, Grabarkiewicz said.
"I can't comment what's in either one of the offers," Cheryl Asente said Wednesday. "I can tell you we are hopeful, and we are praying to come to some agreement to end the fighting and that we don't have to continually go to court. We're trying as hard as we can to end this, but we want it to end cooperatively."
The Asentes, who live in Girard in northeast Ohio, adopted Justin's brother Joey, now 8, and filed for the adoption of Justin.
Moore and Dorning have been fighting to regain custody of Justin, but not Joey.
Last month, the Kentucky Supreme Court sent Justin's custody case back to the trial court to decide between his birth parents and the Asentes.
Reversing an appeals court, the justices said there was evidence to support an earlier ruling that Moore and Dorning did not know what they were doing when they signed a confusing adoption consent form in 1998.
The court ordered the trial judge, Kenton County Circuit Judge Patricia Summe, to decide the case and award custody "on the basis of Justin's best interest."
Moore and Dorning's offer allowed the Asentes to retain full custody of Justin, but had much more liberal visitation rights than the Asentes' counteroffer, Grabarkiewicz said.
The Asentes' offer will include monthly visits alternating between Ohio and Kentucky, Grabarkiewicz said.
"We're facing five years or so more of litigation," Grabarkiewicz said. "So they felt that it was time to do this, and they felt that everyone was coming together to make a difference."
Moore and Dorning's attorney, Glenda Harrison of the Northern Kentucky Legal Aid Society, did not return a message seeking comment Wednesday.
The advocate said she suspects there will be some negotiation, but expects the matter to be resolved shortly.
"The ball is in the court of the biological parents now, and so we'll wait to see what happens," Grabarkiewicz said. "But the Asentes are very hopeful and encouraged by their initial offer and they're trying to come together, which is a wonderful thing."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)