SARASOTA, Fla. -- Barely six months after a judge allowed a Florida teen-ager to remain with the man who had reared her after she had been switched at birth, the girl has suddenly moved in with her biological parents, with whom she had severed all ties.
After a meeting Tuesday attended by both sets of parents, their lawyers and state-appointed guardians, 15-year-old Kimberly Mays left the YMCA shelter in Sarasota where she had been living for the past week and joined the family of Ernest and Regina Twigg in Sebring, about 70 miles from here.
David L. Denkin, a lawyer representing the state in the case, attributed the unexpected move to "certain unique personal difficulties" and "teen-age issues" that were souring Kimberly's relationship with Robert Mays, who was awarded custody of her after hearings in Sarasota County Circuit Court last August.
Mr. Denkin said, "In light of Kim's special needs, which the court recognized in its final opinion, together with the presently existing parent-teen conflict that exists between Kim and her parents," Mr. Mays and his wife, Darlena, "approached Ernest and Regina Twigg to discuss with them the possibility of Kim residing with them for a period of time."
Mr. Mays will retain legal custody of Kimberly, Mr. Denkin said at his news conference here.
Mr. Mays and his first wife, Barbara, took the infant Kimberly home from the hospital in 1978 thinking she was their baby. Barbara Mays died in 1980.
The hospital's mistake in switching infants came to light after the child reared by the Twiggs died of a heart defect in 1988. Medical tests conducted during the girl's illness determined that she was not biologically related to the couple.
Judge Stephen L. Dakan awarded custody to Mr. Mays last August and ruled that the Twiggs "have no legal interest in or right to Kimberly Mays" after the teen-ager testified that she never wanted to see them again. Judge Dakan said it "would be detrimental" to Kimberly "to force her to have any forced contact" with the Twiggs, who had been seeking visitation rights.
During the widely followed court proceedings, Kimberly was adamant about wanting to remain with Mr. Mays, tearfully pleading with Judge Dakan not to force her to live with the Twiggs, at whom she frequently glared during the trial.
When the judge's decision was announced, Kimberly's lawyer, Arthur Ginsburg, reported her to have been "yipping and yelping" with joy.
But last week, Kimberly left Mr. Mays' home and surfaced at a YMCA shelter for troubled teen-agers here. At that time, Judith Lee, a legal adviser to the Mays family, said Kimberly was merely "acting out" and attributed her actions to difficulties typical of many adolescents.
Pleading confidentiality so as to protect Kimberly's privacy, the executive director of the shelter, Jack Greer, would say at the time only that the teen-ager was "experiencing adolescent difficulties that are not uncommon for youth today." He said, "There are absolutely no allegations of abuse of any kind involved in this voluntary admission."
A friend of the Twiggs said yesterday that Kimberly had called Mrs. Twigg from the shelter last week and said: "Mom, I love you, and I want to come home."
Mr. Denkin said Kimberly had moved into the home of the Twiggs, who have seven other children, and will enroll at the local high school.
The Twiggs were not at home yesterday and were said by a friend to have decided to stay out of the public eye for a few days. But a television news crew staking out a Sebring restaurant caught a glimpse of the family, including Kimberly, who appeared to have partially shaved her head. When Mr. Twigg spotted the camera, he ran toward the crew and pushed them away.
Mr. Denkin said both the Twigg and Mays families had agreed "that no further comments or interviews will take place with any media."
Yesterday's announcement was another surprising twist in one of the most unusual child custody cases to find its way into U.S. courts. The battle for custody of Kimberly has been going on for more than five years, and has already been the subject of a television miniseries, a book, and countless talk shows.
In December 1978, shortly after Kimberly and another infant were born in a hospital in rural Wauchula, Fla., the two babies were sent home with the wrong parents. After the death of the child sent home with the Twiggs, genetic testing established that Kimberly is the Twiggs' biological daughter.
That set off a bitter legal battle between the two families. In October 1989, Mr. Mays and the Twiggs agreed to a settlement that gave Mr. Mays custody of Kimberly but allowed the Twiggs visitation rights. Mr. Mays suspended those rights after five visits when he decided that the visits were upsetting Kimberly.
It was at that point that the Twiggs asked a court to force Mr. Mays to give them permanent visitation rights. Kimberly, following the example of another Florida child known only as Gregory K., responded by asking for a ruling that she had the legal right to sever all ties with the Twiggs.
The struggle for the right to rear her clearly disturbed Kimberly. Last year a psychologist testified that Kimberly had told him: "I really feel like I'm being spun around. I'm a kid, and I feel like I'm being treated like dirt."