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Ryan Barr Decision Overturned; Case Returned to Cabell County

March 12, 1986

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ The state Supreme Court has reversed itself and sent a controversial adoption case to a lower court, saying that while the adoption was illegal the child’s happiness must be considered in deciding custody.

The court on Tuesday struck down its previous order that 5-year-old Ryan Barr should be returned to his natural mother. It sent the matter back to Cabell County Circuit Court in Huntington.

Ryan was adopted when he was only a few months old by Gene and Anna Barr of Huntington.

His grandparents filed suit and an Ohio circuit court declared his adoption illegal, but the Barrs hid their identity, refused to relinquish the child and started adoption proceedings in West Virginia.

When state supreme courts in both Ohio and West Virginia ruled that Ryan should be returned to his natural mother, Tammy Lemley Rulen of Lawrence County, Ohio, the Barrs protested that the child had lived with them too long to be moved.

In kicking the case back, the unanimous court told the lower court to determine the best physical custody arrangement for the child. It said an impartial expert should be appointed at state expense to advise the court.

Justice Richard Neely, who also penned the first opinion, wrote that in cases involving child custody ″the vital and controlling question is the welfare of the child and its determination rests in the sound discretion of the court. The law does not recognize any absolute right in any person or claimant to the custody of the child.″

Ryan’s natural mother viewed Tuesday’s decision as in her favor, ″I’ll win a lot more when I get my child back,″ she told WSAZ-TV in Huntington.

The Barrs and their supporters had launched a massive publicity campaign demanding that the West Virginia court rehear the matter. About 200 supporters marched at the Capitol and state newspapers were inundated with ″Save Ryan Barr″ letters. The case has spawned television stories and newspaper articles, many sympathetic to the Barrs.

Two of the five members of the West Virginia Supreme Court are up for re- election this year.

The courts say that Ryan was adopted illegally because his mother was not given a required court hearing and her consent to the adoption was given ″under duress.″

According to court papers, she first signed adoption papers a few days before her 18th birtheday at the office of the Barrs’ lawyers. She then signed more papers, at the lawyers’ request, on her 18th birthday during a meeting in a restaurant parking lot.

Ohio law requires that all adoptions taking place outsid the direction of a state-approved social agency must conducted under the supervision of a court, and that the natural parents must apear before a judege and be informed of their rights.

″Otherwise, children could be sold to the highest bidder and shuffled around like objects on an auction block,″ wrote Ohio Court of Appeals Judge Alice Robie Resnick.

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