Byline: RACHEL DAVIS
Stephen White cried joyfully when his father told him Monday that after five years of court battles, he finally had custody of his son.
After bouncing around between the homes of his biological mother, biological father, and an unrelated couple who strove to adopt him, 5-year-old Evan Parker White finally has a permanent home.
"He was tickled pink and cried like the rest of us," said Steve White Sr., Evan's grandfather.
Stephen White has pursued custody of his son since shortly after his birth in May 2001.
Circuit Judge Waddell Wallace III ruled Monday that in addition to taking custody of Evan, White could also legally change his son's surname to his own. The boy had been known as Evan Johnson and Evan Scott.
According to the decision, the name change "creates an additional tie between father and son that will add another block of stability in Evan's life, something he desperately needs."
Amanda Johnson Hopkins, Evan's biological mother, retains full parental and visitation rights, according to the judge's order.
Hopkins, who lives in Illinois, was unreachable for comment. Her attorney Denise Watson would not comment for this story.
Because Evan has been "thriving" in his father's home since last fall, Wallace said he was reluctant to move him yet again.
"Evidently the biological father's family and extended family has been extraordinarily supportive," said Jacksonville adoption attorney Michael Shorstein. "You've got at least eight months of a child who is . . . living in more than a satisfactory environment . . . that clearly can be maintained.''
In the ruling, Wallace said the case was protracted by the couple who cared for Evan from birth to age 3, Gene and Dawn Scott of Atlantic Beach, who "doggedly pursued permanent custody of Evan for four years through three separate court actions," all of which were dismissed.
Dawn Scott denied she and her husband caused delays.
"We can't force a court to drag something out," she said Monday night. "We followed the court process. We tried to keep Evan safe."
She said the judge's comment was "kind of a slap in the face."
The fierce custody battle began shortly after Evan's birth. While pregnant with him, Evan's mother had left her boyfriend, White, after he was arrested and charged with physically abusing her. She fled to Jacksonville, where her mother lives, and contemplated giving the child up for adoption.
Her mother introduced her to the Scotts, who agreed to adopt Evan at birth.
Hopkins never told White she was pregnant with his child. White learned he had fathered a child shortly before Evan's birth after being contacted by the Scotts' adoption attorney for consent.
White contested the adoption immediately. Almost a year later, a judge dismissed the Scotts' adoption because White refused to give consent.
Evan remained with the Scotts temporarily until January 2004, when he was turned over to his mother's temporary custody. The emotional exchange made national headlines and catapulted what is usually a private court proceeding into a public outcry.
Vigils were held in support of Evan and the Scotts. After the Scotts' case was dismissed, Hopkins and White each sought permanent custody.
While Evan was in the care of his mother, White flew to see his son in Illinois and in Florida during court-allowed visitations . Evan also spent weeks at his father's home in Maine.
According to the judge's order, it may have been in Evan's best interest to leave the boy with the Scotts, whom he'd known for nearly four years as his parents. But Florida law mandates that Evan be placed with one of his biological parents. …