October 25, 1999 12:00 PM

At the time, it seemed to be the nation’s most agonizing adoption battle. And in 1993, when the courts finally decided that Baby Jessica, as she had come to be known, was to be wrenched from her adoptive family and returned to her biological parents, Dan and Cara Schmidt, public sentiment was not on their side. A national Gallup poll showed people almost 10 to 1 against the Schmidts. Even their neighbors in the tiny farming community of Blairstown, Iowa, noted that the couple had borne the baby (today called Anna) out of wedlock and had married only after they declared war in the courts.

Critics can now claim some vindication. After years of rumors that their marriage was shaky, the Schmidts have filed for divorce. According to Rick Smith, a reporter at the Cedar Rapids Gazette, the pair have been separated at least since early summer. Dan, 48, a highway construction worker, still lives in the family’s modest house with Anna, 8, and the couple’s other daughter, Chloe, 6. The girls reportedly spend weekends with Cara, 37, an office worker in nearby Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Though they haven’t commented on their split, Randy Schultz, Dan’s brother-in-law, says, “It’s a real trying time.”

The Schmidts got married a year after Cara gave up her 6-day-old baby for adoption to Jan and Roberta DeBoer, in Ann Arbor, Mich. A few weeks after the adoption, Cara filed papers to revoke her decision and admitted that she had named the wrong man as the baby’s father—meaning that Dan’s paternal consent had not been obtained. The custody battle seesawed between the Michigan and Iowa courts, and when the Schmidts finally won 2½ years later, they were more than $100,000 in debt.

It’s unclear how the children are faring. Though she cried herself to sleep that first night in Blairstown, Anna, a third grader with long brown hair, has reportedly thrived. The children attend church, see their grandparents often and, according to Smith, live in a “nice household.” But questions about Dan and Cara remain. “I’d like to see Dan tell his story,” says Schultz, “but I don’t think it will be for a while.”

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