Thursday, November 12, 2015

Giving His Baby Away....

Christopher Emanuel first met his girlfriend in the fall of 2012, when they were both operating forklifts at a warehouse in Trenton, South Carolina. She was one of a handful of women on the job. She was white and he was black. At first she ignored him, and Emanuel saw it as a challenge. It took multiple attempts to get her phone number. He says he “wasn’t lonely, but everybody wants somebody. Nothing wrong with being friends.”

Their relationship began in February 2013, after months of friendship. When her parents were away for the summer, his girlfriend invited Emanuel to stay at her house for a while. And in May, she took a home pregnancy test, which came out positive.

Emanuel says they were happy. They made a doctor’s appointment and began to plan a life together. But his girlfriend’s parents were still out of town, and she had yet to tell them about the pregnancy or the young man sleeping at their house. They settled into a routine, sharing the cost of doctor’s appointments and attending them together. The baby was due in mid-February of 2014, and when a sonogram revealed that it was going to be a girl, they decided to name her Skylar. Over the summer, Emanuel says he helped his girlfriend apply for Medicaid and for time off under the Family Leave and Medical Act. He still had not met any of her family which should have been a troubling sign. But they continued. 

One evening in August, Emanuel says his girlfriend called him, crying and hysterical. Her mother had finally returned from vacation and a neighbor had told her about the pregnancy. She had confronted her daughter and, according to Emanuel, told her, “You’re pregnant by a nigger. You should be ashamed of yourself.” 

Emanuel’s girlfriend repeatedly promised him that she would never put their child up for adoption. But he couldn’t erase the possibility from his mind. So he posed the question to her, “If you ever had to give your baby up for adoption, you’re going to give it to me, right?” She said she would, but insisted that she had no plans to give the baby away. He says they made plans for her to move in with him permanently at the end of the year.

Not long after, Emanual introduced his girlfriend to his best friend Chelsea Thomason. After the encounter, Thomason started researching paternity rights on her own because she felt as if Emanuals girlfriend was acting "off" and distant. That’s when she learned about the South Carolina Responsible Father Registry, which, according to the state’s Department of Social Services, “gives a man who has fathered a child with a woman he is not married to the right to be notified when an adoption or a termination of parental rights action occurs.” Without the registry, his girlfriend could put the baby up for adoption without telling Emanuel about it. Registering with the state wouldn’t guarantee him custody of Skylar, but at least he’d be notified and have a say in court.

Even though Emanual was well aware of his girlfriends fear of being cut off by her parents, he was reluctant to add his name to the registry because he could not fathom such a betrayal. But at his friends urging he did.

Until 1972, single men like Emanuel had no rights to children they’d fathered outside of marriage. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Stanley v. Illinois changed that. The case centered on Peter Stanley and his partner, Joan, who had lived intermittently with Peter for 18 years. Stanley had fathered three children with Joan during that time. Upon her death, the state took their three children and gave them to court-appointed guardians. In Illinois, as in other states, the father’s non-marital status was taken as a sign that he was uninterested in his children and lacked the capacity to care for them on his own. Because the law categorically denied due process to unmarried fathers, the Court ruled it unconstitutional. 

In September, Emanuel’s girlfriend told him that her mother wanted to meet him. This seemed like progress to him. It had been a month since her mother had learned about the pregnancy, and Emanuel foolishly believed that  he would finally have a chance to win his girlfriend’s parents over and articulate his intentions toward his girlfriend and the baby. But she kept pushing the introduction back, telling him her parents were “out of town” or “busy,” Emanuel said.

Three weeks passed before they set an actual date. When Emanuel and his mother, Natasha Emanuel, came in the door, his girlfriend’s father wasn’t there. But Emanuel embraced the mother and she didn’t recoil. They all sat down and he explained his plan for supporting his girlfriend and Skylar. Then, as Natasha recalled, the mother interrupted Emanuel: “You may be a nice fella, but [my daughter] knows it’s forbidden to date a nigger.”

As you can probably guess from then on the relationship between Emanual and his girlfriend was doomed from then on. Despite his best efforts to continue going to doctors appointments with her, she stopping communicating with him and her once frequent visits stopped. 

Months later, a private investigator showed up at Emanuel’s home and served him with notice papers. “An adoption proceeding was filed in Greenville County on February 19, 2014, and you are the putative father of a Caucasian/African-American female child born at Aiken Hospital on February 11, 2014,” the papers stated. The notice did not give any specifics about the adoption—he didn’t know who had his daughter, or where they were. Just the day before, his girlfriend had texted, “The baby is still in my belly.”

Emanual filed a notice objecting to the adoption proceedings, and found out that his daughters mother had been meeting with a couple who was interested in adopting his daughter for several months before she was born.

After lengthy court proceedings Emanual was awarded custody of his daughter, provducing a long string of text messages in which her mother did in fact promise him that he could have custody of the child in the event that she decided to put her up for adoption. 


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