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Guatemalan Judge Orders US Couple to Return Child

A Missouri couple, who adopted a girl from Guatemala, has been ordered by Guatemalan courts to return her to her birthmother.

Authorities have determined that in 2006 the girl, at two years-old, was kidnapped by a child trafficking ring and placed for adoption.  Nine Guatemalans, including a judge, have been charged in the case. 

No one is claiming that the adoptive parents had any knowledge of the girl’s kidnapping.
This is the first time that a Guatemalan judge has ordered a child to be returned, based on fraud.

What is your reaction to the Judge’s decision?
Is this the best solution to this situation?
What advice could you give to other adoptive parents who may now be worried about the circumstances of their past adoptions?
What advice could you give to prospective adoptive parents who now may be worried about adopting internationally?

AFC Community Moderator


This is heartbreaking on all sides! I feel for the birth mother, who lost her daughter to kidnapping, and I feel for the adoptive parents, who acted completely legally and in good faith to try to complete their family.

I’m sure both the biological and adoptive parents love their daughter very much. I don’t know what the solution is, but this certainly speaks to the need to ensure that all adoptions are ethical and completed with full knowledge and consent by all parties involved.

Posted by mjhwall on Aug 05, 2011 at 9:34pm

This is beyond sad. In this situation- who knows what is the right to do?If the allegations are true, the the birth mother should receive her child back. It would be hurtful to the adoptive parents who were in the dark of the kidnapping, but it would be most hurtful in the short term for the child. I am sure the child would also need therapy for years to come. What i DO know is that if the kidnappers caught, then they need to receive the highest punishment a person can receive for a crime such as this. They have caused for two couples to lose a child they love dearly at two separate times, as well as caused irreparable harm to a child.

Posted by Eshotwell on Aug 05, 2011 at 10:53pm

I think people are siding with either the birth or bio family but by doing so are completely missing the mark. What is best for this ADOPTEE? She was 2 when she kidnapped in 2006, 4 when she was adopted, so that means she is 7 now and has lived the last 3 years with her adoptive family in the US. There are so many factors to consider! She likely does not speak the language of her home country nor does she know anything about daily life there (which is drastically different from an American lifestyle). A transition back to Guatemala would be traumatizing to say the least.

I really hope this girl is the priority in any decision making not the adoptive or biological family.

Posted by SoCal Adoption Support on Aug 06, 2011 at 3:07am

But we do it the other way all the time. Bring children into the USA who don’t speak English or know our culture and they adapt (or we expect they will)

I wonder what happened to her between the kidnapping and the adoption?

I would hope the two families could work something out so that she can know both of them. I am sure she is bonded to both.

What a sad situation. There is no easy solution.

Posted by Regina on Aug 06, 2011 at 9:16am

Here is an additional article in relation to this story.  It goes more into detail about how the biological mom searched for years for her daughter after she was kidnapped in 2006.  Now she is preparing a room for her and is excited to have her back home. 

Apparently the US does not have a history of carrying out foreign court orders to return adopted children to their home country.  But a Guatemalan official said that the US government is obligated under international treaties to return victims of human trafficking or irregular adoptions that have occurred within five years.

At this point, the US adoptive parents have not made any official statement as to their intentions.

Posted by Danielle Pennel on Aug 11, 2011 at 1:38am

This topic sparked a ton of discussion over on our Adoptive Families Facebook Page.

Brooke Allen Wesley My heart breaks for this couple and personally I don’t believe this child should suffer yet again nor should her adoptive parents !!!! Let her remain where she is !!

Tatiana Córdova de Paniagua Mixed feelings. She should stay with her adoptive parents, since they are the only parents she knows and because her future in Guatemala is not promising at all There is where I live) on the other hand, her bio mother has the right to have her back. She wasn’t the one who gave her away… Praying for an agreement between both the bio and adoptive parents.

Jennifer L. Gebhart Wow, thats really sad but is the exact reason why the Haigue (sp) is so important and its too bad that Guatemala didn’t sign it to prevent just this kind of thing from happening. I think she should stay with her adoptive parents and have open communication with her birth parents.

Adrian Montfort-Guy She should return to her birth parents - the heart break that all parents will be suffering is palpable, but at two she will recover from her experience. Yet again the reasons are highlighted for people to stick to domestic only adoptions

Natalie Hayes Ward I wonder if they refinalized or readopted in the courts in the US. If they did (and I am hoping they did) then hopefully the US will help them and back them up. Such a sad story!!

Misty Reim Williston Heart breaking….birthparents have missed so much. They need their baby back. So sad for the adoptive parents. So sad. But it seems like the right thing to do would be to return her to the ones she was taken from.

Anne Cavanaugh Sawan A nightmare.

Monique Bush Her Bio mother deserves to have her. I feel for the adoptive parents. Where she is from really has nothing to do with the case. Just because Jaycee got used to her condition didn’t mean her mother didn’t deserve her back. Im pretty sure that her adopted family is nowhere near the monsters the Garridos are. I was just comparing it for the sake of why I think the mother deserves her child back. Hopefully they can maintain a relationship.

Elizabeth Pierson Meta there is NO winners in this situation! hopefully they can come to some agreement and remain in contact! However I do not think that means all IA is bad and should be avoided!! Yes I say that knowing that there is a 3 year old in my house that is very much the light of my life… well as the rest of his family….Why did we travel half way around the world, to a Russian speaking country, live for a month in a hotel, come back to the us only to fly back 4 weeks later to bring him home?? Because Kazakhstan is where our son was!! For some their child is in the next state, time zone, etc. For US - it was Kazakhstan! Careful about dismissing an entire group of people!! All children deserve a family no matter where they are born.

Karen Jones My reaction, as both a biological and adoptive parent, is that I feel like I’ve taken a punch in the stomach. I feel such a sense of sadness and loss for all of the parents in this story.

Denise Cross Francis This is just an awful situation and the fear that most of us have when we started the adoption adventure. This poor child is old enough to be very aware of the situation and hopefully everyone considers the best interest of the CHILD.

Tonia Price She isn’t 2/3 now. This little girl is 7. She had been with her adoptive parents for 5 years. I think she should stay with her adoptive parents, but still have communication with her bio parents.

Jennifer L. Gebhart ‎@ Adrain Monfort-Guy. . .if you read the entire story, she is not two, she is 6 and won’t just get over it at that age. My husband and I adopted our daughter from China when she was just 12 months old. We did try domestic adoption, we are still licensed foster parents. Try working with judges in this country that time and time again send children back to alcholic and abusive parents just to see the child go back in the system 3 months later. After fostering for 2 years we just couldn’t do it anymore. We also tried to adopt an infant domestically. I don’t know about you but I don’t know many 15 year old girls that give their children up for adoption these days. Besides, China was where our daughter was and we had to go and get her. The day we went before the judge in China for us to become a forever family was our wedding anniversary. . . seems to me she was meant to be our little girl no matter where she just happened to be born.

Karla Serva-Patzner At 7yrs old now this will even cause more trauma in her life. I believe she came home in 2008 with parents. Its the only life she’s known. I feel so bad for her birth family too!!!!! Your right, where she comes from, makes no difference. She belongs there with them and this never should have happened…... BUT you have to do what’s in the best interest of the child now that the damage is done. All around, that would be to stay here if she’s well-bonded with her new family. Work out an arrangement with her birth family…. maybe they can be granted Visa’s to come here? I also hope to US does a DNA test first to make sure the claim is legit.

Karen Jones I understand some of the feelings here. But I can’t help thinking that if your child was kidnapped and gone for 5 years that you wouldn’t think for a minute that they shouldn’t be returned to you, right?

Kelly Marie Lewerenz Praying for peace for everyone,

Janna Davis Haik The child is much older now, and while it was a horrible thing that was done, for the well-being of the child I think it would be best to leave her with the adoptive parents and work out an open adoption agreement with the bio parents. If the child were still young, I would say return her to the bio parents. This is absolutely horrible for both the bio and adoptive parents!! I pray everything works out so that the child does not suffer! I know the bio and adoptive parents are heartbroken, but since so much time has passed and the child has been in a whole different country for so long, I think it would be best to leave her where she is and let her continue to thrive. In the end you the country and the bio parents have to think about the chid’s well-being and not their own heartbreak.

Heidi Spitzmueller Nesta Karen, my thoughts exactly! If your child was kidnapped and you found her five years later living with an adoptive family who had nothing to do with the kidnapping, would you be willing to let her stay with the adoptive parents? This is a horrible situation for all involved, and yes, it will be an incredibly hard adjustment for the little girl, but she should be returned to her parents. Hopefully they will agree to some sort of visitation or shared custody agreement so the little girl can still see her adoptive parents.

Kait Hirt Kettmann She belongs with her biological parents. People keep saying she needs to stay with her adoptive parents because she’s “older” but under those rules, no child should be adopted over a certain age. Older kids adapt too - as long as those caring for them help prepare them for what’s going to happen. As adoptive parents we should care enough about the ethics involved to look at a situation like this and say “Yes, it sucks. But the right thing to do, the ethical thing to do, is to recognize that this child was obtained illegally and therefore our adoption is not legal.”

Besides that, I cannot imagine looking at my child and having to some day tell her that I knew she had been kidnapped, I knew she had a loving mother who wanted her, and I kept her anyway. Poverty should never be a reason to remove a child from a parent that is competent.

Sharon Luck Their government has no jurisdiction here - child is a US citizen.

Katie Phillips I don’t think there is a “right” answer….it’s heartbreaking either way!

Karla Serva-Patzner I keep trying to put myself in all places, and just can’t. Her parents do deserve her back…. unfortunately the heart and head will sometimes tell you different things. Their government has no jurisdiction here like Sharon said, as we have none there. So it will be interesting to see what happens. Just praying for them all.

Adrian Montfort-Guy I feel terribly for the aParents, but they if they insist on keeping this child, then they are no better than the people who stole her and sold her to them. This is human trafficking at its very worst and underlines why international adoptions should be an exception, not a rule.

Imagine telling that child that you knew she was stolen and sold and you found out about it and did nothing - do you really think that child deserves to discover that her aParents cared more about their needs than hers or her bioparents?

Sharon Cerasoli it’s a horrible situation…however I guess I think that she should go back to Guatemala, as she was illegally taken…it’s awful for the family that adopted, and I hope that the Guatemalan family will let them have a role in the girl’s life..

Sharon Cerasoli one of the comments on here bothered me…it said that one of the reasons the child should stay in the US is that her future isn’t promising in Guatemala…well that is measuring things by our standards, and who are we to say that. I feel very uncomfortable with this type of paternalistic thinking and saw these kinds of comments often when we were in the process of adopting from China…that would not even be a factor in this case, IMO

Alison Mallett Hulett Oh so sad…I cannot even imagine…

Gretchen Dombrock Haynes This is a tragedy and while I feel for the adoptive parents, the child should be returned to her mother in Guatemala. It was not a legal adoption, even though the adoptive parents did not know it. Saying that she should remain in the only home she can remember is like saying that adoptive parents should not be able to adopt toddlers and older children because it is taking them away from their home and culture.

This is also why I am a strong supporter of adoption reform. This is yet another example of the consumerism of many current adoption practices. Instead of finding families for children who are truly in need, the money makes people find children for parents who want them and can afford the adoption fees. Even when there are not that many children available and criminals resort to fraud and kidnapping in order to make money.

Trisha Copeland Heartbreaking. I sympathize with all the victims: the child, her biological family and her adoptive family. I hope there’s a special place in hell for the people who facilitated this travesty.

Tatiana Córdova de Paniagua Sharon, I live in Guatemala, and I see everyday children that are exploited, abused, even killed just because our society is so corrupted that low income families, as her bioligical parents are, are forced by their own needs, to put them to work at really young ages. So, when I said that her future in Guatemala is not as promising, I said it from our day to day reality, not the US standards. I do pray for them to come to an agreement so that this innocent little girl gets what she needs: All of her parents, adoptive and biological, since none of them is to blame.

Denise Godwin I personally would totally consider letting my child stay with an adoptive parent if she was kidnapped from me and has lived with them for five years. If they had no idea she was kidnapped and was in a caring, loving home. I have seen what being moved from family to family has done to my daughter (fost/adopt) and I hope that I would put my feelings aside and do what is best for my daughter… As long as visitation and contact were established, she was safe and loved, I’d consider it. It is a horrific story. Heartbreaking on all accounts.

Cindy Morris Serfass Has anyone considered asking the child what she wants? She is 7 years old and I am sure she has feelings about what happens to her. As a foster parent I see firsthand that the uncertainty of their future is what causes a lot of stress and failure to bond in some of these kids.

Terrie Roberts Rauscher My heart breaks for all involved. This little girl is the one whom this is going to affect the most. May however this takes place make sure she is still a part of both of her families Her Mom In Guatemala needs to be able to see her child. Look how long she has looked yearned and no doubt cried for her child. I am an adoptive mom and I cannnot even imagine being in her adoptive parents postition at this time. God be with all of them.

Posted by Danielle Pennel on Aug 11, 2011 at 1:58am

Another update on this ongoing story
The Missouri adoptive parents have issued a statement saying that they are seeking information about their adopted child’s past and want to protect her from “additional trauma.”

The U.S. Justice Department has yet to comment on the case.  Guatemalan officials may solicit help from Interpol, the international police organization, if the girl is not returned to her birthmother within two months of the Guatemalan judge’s request back on July 29th.

As you learn more about this case, have any of your opinions changed?
Any advice you’d want to give the girl’s adoptive parents?

AFC Community Moderator

Posted by Danielle Pennel on Aug 16, 2011 at 11:26pm

I don’t recall anyone saying Elizabeth Smart should be allowed to stay with her captors. Bottom line is that kidnapping is wrong and illegal and this child should be returned to her biological parents who love her and want her and never relinquished their rights.
It’s easy to try to justify letting the adoptive parents keep the girl, but the bottom line is that the adoption was illegally conducted.
More to the point… imagine your child was kidnapped at 2 years old. You spend years searching for your child and you find them. How would you react if someone said you shouldn’t have your child back because it would be upsetting for them?

Posted by wasingerl on Sep 03, 2011 at 12:12am

Any more news on this story?

Posted by Regina on Oct 06, 2011 at 9:44pm

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