After a court declared him the sole legal parent of a 6-year-old son, real estate mogul Jordan Schnitzer allegedly threatened to have his ex-girlfriend and egg donor arrested if she tried to see the boy who calls her “Mommy.”
“The wool got pulled out from underneath us in a pretty big way, and I’ve got a son left wondering why mommy didn’t pick him up,” the biological mother, Cory Sause, told The Daily Beast on Monday as her attorneys planned to appeal the court’s ruling.
Sause, a shipping executive, had a romantic relationship with Schnitzer in 2014 and agreed to help the billionaire philanthropist conceive a son with her eggs. She signed several agreements giving him full legal custody of the child, but says he assured her she would remain a fixture in the child’s life. The pair’s relationship fractured, however, and within days of the child’s birth through a surrogate in 2015, both Sause and Schnitzer went to court to declare their parentage.
A circuit court sided with Sause in 2017, giving her legal rights to the child and limited parenting time. But the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned that decision Thursday, stripping her of all parenting rights.
Sause said the five-year court process that gave her access to her child before ripping it away was horrific.
“I’ve taught [the child] how to ride a bike, we were going to swimming lessons, he knows the alphabet because of me,” she said. “I've got all of these videos and pictures and I guess now that’s all I’ve got to live with.”
“The government can create a mother and then take the mother away,” she added. “I’ve never been through anything this gut-wrenching and this cruel and sad.”
Despite the devastating decision, Sause and her attorneys say a family court order granting her parenting time is still in place until the appellate judgment is entered. As a result, Sause was preparing for her scheduled visit on Saturday when she received a text from Schnitzer telling her to talk to her lawyer. “We have cancelled this weekend’s visitations,” he wrote.
The night before—just one day after the appellate decision—Schnitzer’s attorneys had emailed Sause’s, informing them that Schnitzer would “no longer accommodate parenting time for Cory and [the child],” and would be filing a motion to permanently terminate parenting time this week. Sause says Schnitzer’s attorneys told her that he would call the authorities on her if she arrived to pick up her son.
In separate messages reviewed by The Daily Beast, Schnitzer texted at least one former nanny to say that Sause was not the child’s mother and he would be taking her off the birth certificate. “5 years of agony,” he wrote.
Sause told The Daily Beast she still had a copy of the original birth certificate with her name on it, and that the Portland developer and art collector could “pry that out of my cold, dead hands.”
Attorneys for Schnitzer did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.
According to court records, Schnitzer—who already had two daughters—was attempting to have a son via an anonymous donor when he met Sause in 2014. When that donor failed to yield a child, Schnitzer suggested he and Sause create embryos together and have the child via surrogate. Under an agreement they signed at the time, any male embryos created would be in his custody and any female embryos would be in hers.
Despite this agreement, however, Sause believed that Schnitzer “welcomed the thought of her as a part of the child’s life,” according to the appellate court. The 42-year-old made plans for a nursery in her home and texted Schnitzer about painting the walls blue for a boy. He, in return, sent her parents an ultrasound of the fetus, calling it “your grandson,” and texted Sause: “this is our baby.” Both Sause and her parents were invited to attend the ultrasound appointments.
But according to court documents, the relationship “cooled” over the course of the pregnancy. The day after the baby was born—and following a disagreement about whether the surrogate mother should be allowed to take him home—Schnitzer filed a general declaratory judgment of parentage. Sause attempted to intervene in that decision, which named only the surrogate and her husband as respondents but was denied. She filed a separate motion in her home county shortly thereafter, which led to the 2017 decision deeming her the child’s legal mother. It was that decision that the appellate court overruled last week.
The case has attracted national attention, including from the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys, which filed an amicus curiae brief. Thomas McDermott, Sause’s attorney in the parentage case, said he planned to appeal the decision to the Oregon Supreme Court—and if it doesn’t take it, to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“[Sause] is a fighter, and she’s lucky enough to have some resources, so she’s not going to back down,” he said.
Sause said that, regardless of the case’s outcome, this is how she wanted the child to remember her.
“I hope that someday when [the child] is old enough to Google, he will know how much I fought for him,” she said.
“I just want there to be proof that I did everything in my power, and I’m still going to do everything in my power until all avenues are exhausted,” she added. “Because I am his mother, and nobody will tell me different.”