Adoptive parents fight for custody of 9-year-old Sonya

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DICKSON, Tennessee (CNN) — The last time Sonya’s adoptive parents heard her voice, the girl was begging to return to the only home she’d ever known.

“What did you say, baby doll?” asks Kim Hodgin, in a recording of the phone call.

“I want to you to come and get me,” responds Sonya.

She describes her biological father’s home as dirty, with mold and cigarettes everywhere. The girl complains he doesn’t have clean water, but says he’s being nice to her.

Her adoptive father tells Sonya everything is going to be OK. “You just stay strong,” says Dave Hodgin.

‘He’s a total stranger’

That call took place January 30, one day after Sonya was removed from the Hodgins’ home in Tennessee.

Sonya, now 9, had been in the Hodgins’ care since before she was 2, and was adopted by the family in 2008.

Before the adoption was finalized, her birth father pleaded guilty to transporting firearms — a felony — and was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.

Under Tennessee law, his parental rights were automatically terminated because state law does not allow anyone incarcerated for more than 10 years to have rights to a child under the age of 8.

However, her birth father later cut a deal using information he had about a homicide. His sentence was reduced to just 7½ years, allowing John McCaul to assert his parental rights and fight to reverse the adoption.

“She’s never laid eyes on this man. He’s a total stranger,” said Kim Hodgin.

Nevertheless, a court reversed Sonya’s adoption in November 2009. The girl continued to live with the Hodgins as both sides fought for custody.

Nearly five years later, a judge ruled Sonya should return to her biological father. Three hours after the ruling, she was gone.

“Sonya’s crying her eyes out. Screaming bloody murder, ‘Please don’t let them do this, Daddy, please, Mama, don’t let ’em take me,'” said Dave Hodgin.

“They took her bags, and that’s the last that I’ve seen her,” said Kim Hodgin.

A father’s fight

Sonya now lives in Omaha, Nebraska — a world away from the 40-acre farm she called home in Tennessee. CNN went to Omaha, hoping McCaul would answer questions about his daughter and his past.

He said he would be open to an interview and to check with his lawyer.

But his attorney said — for now — McCaul is forbidden by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services to speak publicly about the case and about his daughter.

A spokesman for DCS released a statement.

“So many times, foster parents come to love the children who stay in their homes,” Rob Johnson said. “We see that every day in Tennessee. But we have to remember that the law is clear: Birth parents have the right to raise their children, and that the court system, where the final decision rests, is there to take all sides into account.”

The Hodgins have filed a petition in Tennessee asking a judge to return Sonya, based on what they say is her best interest. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday.

“Despite repeated efforts by the foster family to terminate this child’s father’s rights, his parental rights have never been successfully terminated, and his daughter has now been returned to his care,” said Lynn Coffinberry, McCaul’s Tennessee lawyer.

By Randi Kaye

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  • anonymous

    In a case like this why can’t they have joint custody? I understand that the father has ever right to his child and I’m glad that they are giving him a chance. At the same time he is not “dad” to her, and she obviously doesn’t want to live with him. :(

  • Squeaky Wheeler

    I’m an adoptive parent. The court did the right thing. The best scenario would have entailed some kind of joint custody arrangement. The fact is that children belong with their biological parents.

    DNA is a magic code that is imprinted on the souls of people – most individuals on this planet want to know who they are and where they came from. I see this on FB all the time – where someone has ‘aged out,’ still loves their heart parents, but is consumed with looking for their tummy parents.

    My heart breaks for the adoptive parents and for the little girl who had to go through this; however, I am a firm supporter of Father’s Rights. In the long run, this was the best decision. The adoptive parents need to be supportive of the father in as much as they can be (with broken hearts) and encourage the little girl to love him. At this juncture, she feels like she is betraying them if she connects with him. Sad.

  • ChicksGoats

    Once they allowed her to be adopted it should have been done, they shouldn’t be allowed to undo it. The Father could be given visitation, but the child now has a new family and that shouldn’t be undone because he cut a deal and got a reduced sentence. Definitely not what is best for the girl.


    I say leave them alone for now , did she have time to get aquainted with him before they removed her from the Foster Parents?? shes nine ,, give it a chance , he fought for her a long time , and yes, I say lets split the custody, lets share this Child, whats wrong with that ??

  • Sheila Baker

    amazing that they think a little girl would be better off with someone who is a felon than with the people that loved her so much they adopted her. the adoption should not have been overturned “after the fact”. i hope when she is 12 she can decide where she wants to live.

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