- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 18, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A Middle Tennessee couple who raised a foster child for eight years before she was returned to her birth father has filed a petition seeking to terminate the parental rights of the father and adopt the girl.

The custody dispute that pits the rights of the birth father against the foster parents who raised his child has hit a nerve with supporters on both sides who have been vocal on social media sites. The case also has drawn national attention in part because of the circumstances that have allowed 9-year-old Sonya McCaul to remain in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services for close to nine years.

David and Kim Hodgin filed the petition to officially adopt Sonya on June 6.

The couple has been through the process before. A court terminated the rights of John McCaul and allowed the Hodgins to adopt in 2008, but the state appeals court overturned the adoption on technical grounds. After a protracted legal battle, Sonya was sent to live with her birth father in Omaha, Nebraska, in January. The Department of Children’s Services continues to have legal custody of Sonya and spokesman Rob Johnson has described the placement with John McCaul as a trial home visit.

At a hearing on Wednesday, Sonya’s court-appointed attorney, Jennifer Honeycutt, said she is doing well and made all A’s on her report card.

“She is happy and has expressed that she does not want to come back to Tennessee at this time,” Honeycutt told the judge.

Honeycutt said the girl is upset with the Hodgins for an interview on CNN where a phone call between Kim Hodgins and Sonya was played. The girl learned about the call when a teacher asked her about it.

“She did not like having her private conversation exposed. She does not like being on the media, and she would like it to stop,” Honeycutt said.

After the hearing, David Hodgin told reporters he and his wife felt they had no choice but to turn to the media in their quest to get Sonya back.

“We miss our daughter terribly,” he said.

Wearing a pink wristband with the words “Bring Sonya Home,” Hodgin said he suspects Sonya thinks he and his wife have abandoned her because they have not been allowed to contact her since she moved to Nebraska.

He dismissed Honeycutt’s statements in court that Sonya does not want to come back to live or even visit.

“I don’t believe that as far as I can throw my truck,” he said.

The Hodgins’ attorney, Kendall Sykes, issued a statement Tuesday saying that after a review of the case, she believes there are legal grounds for the Hodgins to legally adopt Sonya.

“We would be remiss not to vigilantly pursue every available option under the law to reunite Sonya with her parents in Tennessee and that is exactly what we intend to do,” the statement said.

John McCaul’s attorney, Carrie Gasaway, did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the petition.

According to court records, the Hodgins first came to take care of Sonya in October 2005 after a baby sitter for McCaul brought 1-year-old Sonya to Tennessee. The sitter had McCaul’s permission to take Sonya, but the sitter then failed to return to Nebraska.

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services soon took custody of Sonya, and the Hodgins became her official foster parents in April 2006. That same month, McCaul was taken into federal custody, where he served seven-and-a-half years for unlawful transport of firearms.

At the same time the Hodgins were trying to adopt Sonya, DCS was attempting to place her with her paternal grandmother in Nebraska.

After McCaul was released from prison in October 2012, the Hodgins agreed to slowly reintroduce him into Sonya’s life, but after several months, that process broke down. In January, Sonya was transferred to live with McCaul, whom she had not seen since she was an infant.

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