- Associated Press - Saturday, January 21, 2017

NORTH FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) - Matthew Bolton says he wants his 7-month-old twins back. Then he realizes “back” is the wrong word. “I never had them,’” he says. “I never had the chance.”

Bolton, 33, didn’t know he fathered Patrick and Ava during a short affair with their mother Destiny Swan, while both were separated from long-term partners in 2015. Swan told Bolton she had the babies’ DNA tested. He wasn’t the father, she said. But Swan didn’t have a DNA test done. She told a few people the twins were fathered by Bolton and she didn’t want him to know. So he was kept in the dark believing the lie she told him.

It wasn’t until shortly after Christmas 2016, when the twins were 6 months old, that Swan told Bolton he was the father of the twins.

What has transpired in Southwest Florida is a story straight out of a Russian novel, or worse, The Jerry Springer show. One twin is in the process of being adopted after Swan took him out of the North Fort Myers home where he had lived since birth. The other baby Swan gave to another woman and her husband in North Fort Myers to raise as their own child. Now Bolton is faced with the Herculean task of trying to get custody and reuniting the twins.

“I haven’t even had a chance to bond with my kids,” Bolton said. “It kills me.”

After giving birth to the premature twins in June, Swan, 20, and living in North Fort Myers, never took custody. Ava left Healthpark Medical Center with Deanna Birrell and her then-partner Chad Haase, 28. Birrell, who will turn 43 on Tuesday, raises Swan’s other children who are her grandchildren by Swan’s former boyfriend.

Patrick went home from the hospital with Patience Wible, 37, who is the live-in partner of Swan’s maternal uncle Scott Blain. Just before Christmas, Wible said, Swan showed up at her North Fort Myers home with the police and someone from an adoption agency and took Patrick away. He was ultimately placed with a couple in Nebraska.

Wible, distraught over the loss of Patrick, called Bolton to tell him that he was the father of the children. He contacted Swan and she confirmed it, he said. When he received pictures of Ava and Patrick, he was “100 percent” convinced. They looked exactly like his other two children. A picture of Patrick and a baby picture of Bolton’s 8-year-old son are nearly identical.

But for him to assert his legal rights, Bolton needs DNA. And if the results confirm it, he wants custody of both children, who he believes should never have been separated. “Twins have a special bond,” Bolton said. “They should be together.”

Legal trouble

Bolton has begun the confusing and arduous process of establishing paternity and trying to gain custody. He filed the paperwork in Lee County to compel Swan and Birrell to have a DNA test done on Ava. A case management conference is scheduled for Feb. 24. He also put his name on Florida’s Putative Father Registry.

The Putative Father Registry is designed to prevent situations such as this, protect the father’s paternal rights and not disrupt adoptions. But Linda Clausen, the southern regional director for Concerned United Birth Parents, calls the registry “ridiculous.” What it says is that any man who has intercourse with a woman he is not married to should register with the state so that if she becomes pregnant and gives the baby up for adoption he can “preserve the right to notice and consent,” the Florida statute reads.

Bolton never heard of the registry until after Swan turned Patrick over to an adoption agency. And moreover, he believed Swan when she told him he wasn’t the father. Although the two had broken up, the relationship wasn’t contentious, he said. And it didn’t occur to him that she would lie and try to deny him his right to be a father to his children.

Patrick may have passed through several adoption agencies and/or attorneys before being finally placed with the couple in Nebraska. Bolton said he spoke with at least two women at an adoption agency telling them he knew nothing about his paternity until after Swan had relinquished custody.

One of the women encouraged him to try to get Ava back, he said, even offering help and guidance. But he said there were strings attached. Once he gained custody would he agree to her adoption into the same family as Patrick?

When Bolton said he wanted custody of both children, he said someone tried to convince him adoption would be better for the kids. The family is wealthy and they would have every opportunity in life. She even provided him with a video link so that he could see what the prospective parents were like.

When that didn’t convince him to give his pursuit of the children, Bolton said the agency tried to scare him off, telling him he’d have to foot the bill for exorbitant costs of testing and a court fight. The adoptive parents could afford high-priced attorneys and all he would be able to get were court-appointed lawyers who were no match. It would cost him thousands, and he still wouldn’t get his children.

The president of Hearts of Adoptions Inc., Tampa-based attorney Jeanne Tate, filed a petition in Hillsborough County to terminate Bolton’s parental rights regarding Patrick. Bolton is contesting the termination and has 10 days left to respond.

When contacted, Tate responded by email that, “Florida law treats all adoptions as confidential and this prohibits me from discussing any case, or even acknowledging that I have knowledge about a case.”

And she added: “Running background checks on your sources, including criminal background checks, might give you some benchmark for honor and integrity.”

Bolton has had numerous run-ins with the law, a fact he’s not proud of but doesn’t hide. The most serious and the only felony involved a hit-and-run with property damage. He thinks this history will be used against him in any custody battle. Bolton said he became hooked on prescription painkillers after an accident. When he could no longer get them from a doctor, he started using the drugs illegally, leading to the misdemeanor drug and petty theft charges.

“I had a problem, but I rose above it,” Bolton said. He went through rehabilitation and has maintained his sobriety. He is under the care of a doctor he sees quarterly.

Custody rights

Bolton lives in a small, neat home in North Port with his fiancé and their two children. He has a steady job in construction and also works as an on-call contract lineman for extra money. He’s launched a gofundme page, “Devastated Dad Fighting for Twins,” hoping to use the money to hire a lawyer.

The couple adopting Patrick did not return phone calls. They live in a nearly 8,000-square-foot, $1.2 million home in Nebraska. They have two biological children but, according to their post on a website, were unable to have more and decided to adopt.

Swan said she supports Bolton in his attempt to get custody of Patrick but “Ava is where she needs to be.” She then said she was unable to talk. And didn’t return calls or respond to text messages.

Birrell, who has Ava, said she took the baby home to raise as her daughter believing she was her son’s child. Destiny signed and notarized paper work Birrell said, but it wasn’t a formal adoption. Birrell said Bolton doesn’t know if Ava is his daughter, even though she doesn’t look like her son, who is olive-skinned and of Native American heritage. But one of her four children was blond, she said, and looked like none of her other children so it’s possible Ava isn’t Bolton’s child.

She said that Bolton shouldn’t “make a fuss” until he gets DNA. But she didn’t know that Swan had told him and the adoption agency that he was the father.

“If these are his kids he has the right,” she said. But when asked if she would relinquish custody of Ava if it turned out she was Bolton’s child, she said, “I don’t know how to answer that.”

Wible, who had Patrick for the first six months of his life, wondered if the adoptive parents know that Patrick has a father who wants to raise him.

Several times during the interview with Wible she began crying so hard the conversation stopped for several minutes.

“I want Patrick back, and I’m probably never going to have that,” she said. “But if Matt can have him I can have the ability to be in Patrick’s life. I love Patrick enough to not be selfish.”

Wible said she knew Swan told Bolton he wasn’t the biological father. And she asked Swan why she misled him. “Destiny didn’t want Matthew to know because he has a wife and two other children,” Wible said.

Sarah Brown, Bolton’s long-time partner and fiancé, a 35-year-old registered nurse, is supportive of Bolton’s efforts to gain custody.

Brown said she hadn’t planned to raise another baby, let alone twins.

“But I’m an RN. We roll with the punches,” she said. And even though the children may not be Bolton‘s, Brown added a note of optimism: “I’m excited about having two kids coming. I saw their pictures and I love them already.”

___

Information from: The (Fort Myers, Fla.) News-Press, https://www.news-press.com

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