While Hollywood works to bring the story of babies "Switched at Birth" to the screen, the real-life players are heading to court in a bitter tug of war over a 12-year-old girl.
"The preliminary script we reviewed for the movie had a happy ending and it's our hope that the real-life story will have a happy ending also," said John Blakely, an attorney who is seeking visitation rights for the biological parents of Kimberly, a hazel-eyed sixth-grader.But Bob Mays, who raised the girl from birth only to discover he was not her biological father, is worried Ernest and Regina Twigg want shared custody of his only child.
"We're still on our roller coaster ride," Mays said.
The stories of two families who unknowingly raised the other's child for more than nine years is being made into a television miniseries to be aired over two nights on NBC, likely in early May, producer Michael O'Hara said.
Kimberly, born at a tiny rural hospital in central Florida, went home with the wrong parents - Mays and his late wife, Barbara, who died of cancer in 1981. The girl born to the Mayses, whom the Twiggs named Arlena, died of a heart defect in 1988.
Just before Arlena's death, genetic tests showed she was not the Twiggs' biological daughter.
Their search for their biological daughter led them back to Hardee Memorial Hospital in Wauchula, where Mrs. Mays and Mrs. Twigg gave birth within days of each other in winter 1978.
The Twiggs' quest eventually led to a three-year custody battle over Kimberly. Mays, a Sarasota roofing salesman, rejected repeated requests for genetic testing to resolve the mystery.
The impasse was broken when the Twiggs agreed in writing in October 1989 not to seek custody of Kimberly, even if she turned out to be their daughter. Under the agreement, the Twiggs had the option to seek visitation.
Genetic tests showed the Twiggs were Kimberly's biological parents, and psychologists were brought in to make recommendations if and when meetings should occur. No timetable was set.
Since last June, there have been at least five meetings between Kimberly and the Twiggs and their seven other children, ages 8 through 23, attorneys said.
Both sides agreed the kids got along fine, but not so with the adults dealing with the sensitive scars the ordeal has carved.
Mrs. Twigg, still reeling from Arlena's loss, was adopted herself at an early age, and getting to know Kimberly is perhaps especially important because of that background, her attorney said.
The Twiggs moved from Pennsylvania back to Florida a couple of years ago in part to be near Kimberly. They settled in Sebring, about 60 miles from Sarasota.
"They were on cloud nine with each of Kimberly's visits," Blakely said.
In November, Mays stopped the visitations.
He said it was a temporary move, at least through January, because he had grounded the youth for falling grades and mood swings he didn't understand.
"They chose to have their attorney write us a letter which amounted to an ultimatum to have Kimberly about half of the time," Mays said. "You would have thought it was a very amiable divorce between Mrs. Twigg and I."
"I'm not seeing the same child I knew a year or two ago," he said. "The doctors are working with her. Once we have a handle on it I'll be a whole lot happier."
Blakely said the Twiggs' psychologist, Dr. Harold Smith, concluded visitation should be more frequent.
In documents filed last week in Circuit Court, Mrs. Twigg quoted Kimberly as saying, "I don't want to hurt my dad's feelings, so I'll call you Mr. and Mrs. Twigg in front of my dad, but I'll call you mom and dad when I'm just with you."
No hearing date has been scheduled.
Noting the bitterness between the two sides, O'Hara said it was "a miracle" to get the two families to agree on the script.
"My goal has been a balanced point of view," he said.