Iva Miller says losing a grandchild "is the worst hurt you can ever have." It's been three years since it happened, but she says she still has the nightmares and headaches.
"One night I woke up, and I could hear him calling me . . . ," she remembers. "It was just like real. It's because I think of him so much that I dream of him at night. I probably should go to counseling, but I'm trying to work it out."
Unlike most grandparents who have lost a grandchild, Miller knows that the boy, now 8, is alive. She knows exactly where he is--living with his mother and stepfather a few miles away in Buena Park. But Miller no longer has a right to see him.
For after five years of doting on him and buying him "everything he wanted--I spoiled him rotten," Miller was legally barred from the child's presence. Blood tests taken during a legal dispute showed that Miller's son was not the boy's biological father after all.
"We were both terribly, terribly shocked when we found out," Miller says. "I still don't believe that he isn't my grandson--not in my heart."
The discovery came during a relatively new kind of lawsuit: a man trying to prove he is the father of a child born out of wedlock.
Paternity laws evolved mainly to force child support from fathers unwilling to pay it. Because reliable scientific tests for paternity were not available, the laws depended largely on assumptions. A man was presumed to be the father, for example, if he was married to and living with the child's mother at the time of conception.
During recent years, however, some men have been using paternity laws to secure, rather than avoid, parental rights and responsibilities. And the recent advent of sophisticated blood tests that can rule out--if not prove--paternity, plus the prospect of definitive genetic testing, have changed the ballgame.
But not the rules. Attorneys complain that some antiquated laws remain, resulting in numerous pending appeals that could lead to landmark decisions changing paternity law.
"There is case law coming down, all sorts of cases on appeal. It's a giant gray area in the law," says one paternity lawyer.
Now add Iva Miller's case to the complications. In a lawsuit described by attorneys as "very unusual," Miller and her son are suing the child's mother, claiming she defrauded them for five years.
They allege she duped them into spending money on the boy, giving money to her and agreeing to repay welfare benefits paid for the child. The welfare lien amounts to about $28,000.
A court-appointed arbitrator ruled that the mother's actions "clearly come within the definitions of fraud" and awarded $207,000 to Miller and her son. But a trial is scheduled to begin this week.
The boy's mother, Donna R. Guiles, has refused to talk about the case. Miller's complaining is baseless, "and we've had enough of it," Guiles' husband says.
Miller's son, Herbert E. Anderson of Upland, who had thought he was the boy's father, also has declined to be interviewed. He wants only "to put it behind him," Miller says. "He's suffered a lot over this."
Miller says she's suing so she can pay off the welfare lien and legal costs but is more worried about the boy's reaction to her sudden disappearance from his world.
"I'm going to find him when he grows up," Miller says. "I will find him. He will never forget me; we were too close. And I will tell him that I didn't desert him, that it wasn't my choice. . . . I don't understand why she did this to me."
Guiles has testified that she was convinced that Anderson was the boy's father. According to court documents, Anderson was 23 and Guiles was 19 in November, 1982, when she became pregnant. The two had been living together for about 10 months.
Guiles testified that she told Anderson he was the father without telling him that she had had sex with another man.
She said she had met the man at a weightlifting event in Fullerton and had dated him four times. She said his name was Bob--she didn't know his last name--and assumed that he was not the father because they had sex only once and had used a contraceptive.
Why didn't you disclose that? asked Anderson's attorney, Costas A. Ladikos.
"Because he would never disclose to me that he was having sexual relations with all the other girls that he was having . . . ," Guiles replied.
Miller said both she and her son accepted without question that he was the father. She said her son informally agreed to pay $200 a month to help support the boy, but "that was very hard for him, because he was struggling. . . . He really wasn't making very much money back then."
But her son made few of the payments, Miller said. Usually, he could afford them only "when I'd help him."
Guiles applied for welfare in El Dorado County, east of Sacramento, and named Anderson as father of the boy. The local district attorney's office routinely tries to force fathers to reimburse the county for their children's welfare payments, and in 1985 the district attorney sued to have Anderson declared the father.
For the first time, blood tests would be taken to officially determine paternity. Miller said that Guiles, the boy's mother, reacted by tearfully insisting that Anderson sign whatever papers were necessary to avoid the blood tests.
Miller says she now believes that the boy's mother always suspected that Anderson might not be the father. "This is why I think she didn't want the state to do the blood tests. . . . And by him admitting to the state that he was the father, they didn't have to get the blood test."
In the resulting uncontested judgment, the court ordered Anderson to pay past and future child support, reimburse the county for welfare payments and pay other fees. To back up the judgment, county authorities filed a lien of about $28,000 against him.
By this time, Miller said, her son had married, and "he didn't get close with (the child) because he had a problem with his wife. . . . He probably saw him four, five times a year--always on birthdays and Christmas and stuff like that."
But Miller said she became extremely close to the boy, her first grandchild, especially after the boy and his mother returned to Orange County.
"This little guy, you'd have to see him," Miller said. "He is adorable. He calls me 'Granna.' He wanted to stay with me always. He always cried when his mother picked him up, because I spoiled him rotten. I bought him everything he wanted.
"We were very, very close. We spent a lot of time together. I baby-sat a lot for him when his mother went out. I'd have him for the weekend. I took him to the mountains, to the apple country."
And Miller said she grew close to the boy's mother as well. "She was like my daughter. We were very close. . . . She was a very good mother, very attentive . . . basically, a very nice person."
But in November, 1988, the boy's mother filed suit against Miller, alleging that she "has over the years continually harassed both me and my new husband" as well as the boy.
Miller "calls our house at all hours of the day and night and constantly tells both me and my husband what to do in our personal lives" as well as "entering my house without being invited," Guiles alleged.
The court issued a temporary restraining order forbidding Miller to approach the Guiles family, including the boy.
Miller's answer was a lawsuit on her son's behalf to declare "existence of a father-and-child relationship," the first step toward securing formal visitation rights. This time blood tests were taken, and they showed that Miller's son was not the boy's biological father.
Her son "was crushed," Miller says. "I think probably it was kind of like he was in shock to think somebody would do that to him--and then embarrassed."
"I almost cracked up," Miller recalls. "I probably cried for a month, and I still cry and I still hurt."
Miller says that now she would like to resume seeing the boy, this time as his "used-to-be grandmother." But realistically, "I don't want him to see me, because I know it would hurt him. And I don't know if I could handle seeing him."
A couple of years were "very, very hard for me," she says. "I have started to kind of get my life back together."