A lesbian couple has adopted a baby boy only to see him taken back by his biological parents and killed by his father just weeks later.
Rachel and Heidi McFarland have now sued their lawyer, Jason Rieper, for malpractice, and been awarded compensation of $3.25 million.
The couple, who live in Iowa, adopted Gabriel with the understanding that his 16-year-old mother Markeya Atkins had signed over custody.
Rachel and Heidi with one of their daughters (Facebook)
But Markeya, a co-worker of Rachel’s, changed her mind after the couple had coached her through labour and taken care of Gabriel for 78 days.
Since Markeya had not signed any release-of-custody forms, despite the couple being told by their Rieper that she had, she was able to take Gabriel back.
Five weeks later the child’s father, 17-year-old Drew James Weehler-Smith, shook the baby to death.
After confessing, Weehler-Smith was convicted of second-degree murder and jailed for 50 years.
Rachel told People magazine: “The release-of-custody never got signed by either birth parent.
“Obviously our child and us weren’t a priority to [Mr Rieper].
“We are just happy he was found negligent,” she added.
“That was what our goal was. We will not see any money from this.”
Rachel, who has since adopted two daughters with Heidi, explained: “Adoption wasn’t ever our number one choice, but because it was private it seemed tailor-made for us and we thought this could be our chance to become parents.
“The birth mum didn’t care if we were a same-sex couple.
“It just seemed too good to be true – and it was too good to be true.”
Rachel recalled the pain of having to return Gabriel to Markeya, saying: “She wants him back and you have to give him back.
“It was horrible. There are no words.”
David Brown, who was representing Rieper, said he would look to challenge the decision made at the Iowa District Court for Polk County.
Drew James Weehler-Smith (WHO TV)
“You can’t control the emotion of a birth mum, and you can’t control the emotions of a 16 year-old birth mum,” Brown said.
“At the end, the kid wasn’t going to [sign the papers] and the suggestion that Jason was to force her to do it, would be unethical for him.”
However, Roxanne Conlin, who represented Rachel and Heidi, said Rieper “just didn’t get around to” getting the documents signed.
“If the lawyer had done what he was supposed to do, the birth mother would have signed a document called a release of custody and four days after she signed it, it would have been almost impossible for her or the baby’s father to take Gabriel away from them,” she wrote on Facebook.