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O.C. mother wins right to keep Baby Vanessa in a case followed by legal scholars

March 14, 2011 | 10:22 pm

A toddler in the middle of a contentious interstate custody battle will remain with an Orange County woman after a settlement was reached in an Ohio courtroom Monday.

Stacey Doss, 46, of Rancho Santa Margarita said she will drop her petition to adopt 2½-year-old Vanessa, who has lived with Doss since birth. Doss now has full custody of the child.

Rena Jordan, Vanessa’s grandmother, will be granted visitation rights. Vanessa’s father, Benjamin Mills Jr., and Jordan of Dayton, Ohio, have been fighting for custody of Vanessa for more than two years.

Doss began the process to adopt Vanessa months before the child was born. When Vanessa was less than a month old, Mills filed for custody, halting the adoption proceedings.

Vanessa’s mother, Andrea Conley, said her pregnancy was the result of a one-night stand and that Mills was not the father, but genetic tests proved otherwise. In 2005, court records showed that Mills served time in jail for domestic violence.

In Ohio, a custody trial was scheduled after the two parties failed to reach an agreement in mediation. In July, Doss was ordered to return Vanessa to Ohio. She appealed that decision and was granted a stay to keep the child until further notice.

The settlement could end legal proceedings in the case, which legal scholars believed had the potential to go to the Supreme Court to explore the issue of children’s rights in foster care situations.

Doss said she is relieved that she can officially call herself Vanessa’s mother. “I may sleep for the first time in two and a half years,” she said.

-- Nicole Santa Cruz

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