CARA SCHMIDT, then Cara Clausen, had a baby on 8 February 1991 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, whom she put up for adoption. On 14 February the child was turned over, with the agreement of the mother (and that of her then boyfriend whom she had named as the father), to Jan and Roberta DeBoer of Ann Arbor, Michigan, who had been seeking a child for 10 years. The DeBoers named the baby Jessica and took her home to Ann Arbor.

But three weeks later, on 6 March, Cara Clausen filed a petition with the court to have her parental rights restored. And on 12 March Dan Schmidt, a former boyfriend of Ms Clausen who turned out to be the baby's real father, filed a petition to have his parental rights recognised.

Thus began a two-and-a-half-year court case, during which time Baby Clausen, as she is known to the courts, has known no other name but Jessi, and no other parents but the DeBoers. Yet on 2 August Jessica will be handed back to her birth parents. by order of the Michigan supreme court. The Schmidts, who are now married and recently gave birth to a daughter, intend to change Jessica's name to Anna.

The case has split the US. Mark McDermott, a lawyer who specialises in adoption cases, says that the courts had no alternative. 'If Jessica was allowed to stay with the DeBoers, it would make it possible for someone to kidnap a child, keep it with them for some time, and then argue that it was in the best interests of the child that they should keep it.'

The Iowa supreme court, considering both the 'best interests of the child', as well as the rights of the natural parents, said that it was being invited to 'be engaged in uncontrolled social engineering . . . . Courts are not free to take children from their parents simply by deciding that another home offers more advantages.'

Jim White is away.

(Photographs omitted)