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Heiress Libet Johnson Adopts Cambodian Orphan After 6-Year Fight With Ex

By James Fanelli | February 25, 2013 6:42am

UPPER EAST SIDE — Time heals all wounds — and Band-Aid heiress Libet Johnson is proof.

The Johnson & Johnson scion and her weight-loss guru ex-beau have apparently mended fences and ended a six-year cutthroat custody battle over a Cambodian orphan, DNAinfo.com New York has learned.

Manhattan Surrogate's Court judge finally gave Johnson the go-ahead to become the adoptive mother of the 9-year-old boy she has cared for since he was an infant. The approval came with the blessing of Dr. Lionel Bissoon, her former boyfriend and the child's adopted father.

In a July 11 ruling, Judge Kristin Booth Glen cites a joint-parenting agreement that the once bitter foes reached in 2011. In that pact Johnson and Bissoon both expressed "parental love" for the boy and acknowledged Bissoon remains the legal adoptive father.

"The parties now wish to place the litigation between them over the past years behind them, to heal the wounds caused by that litigation to the extent that they can, to provide to William the security and other benefits that come with having two loving parents, and to parent William jointly from this time forward with a commitment to serving his best interests," the agreement says, according to Glen's decision.

The deal closed an acrimonious legal battle that began in 2006, when Bissoon challenged Johnson's attempt to gain sole adoption in the U.S.

Three years earlier William came into their lives when Johnson found him as a 6-month-old in Cambodia. A real estate dabbler and philanthropist, Johnson was in the country after starting a $10 million charity to help its orphans.

At the time she and Bissoon — a weight-loss expert whose clients included Roberta Flack — had been dating for five months and wanted to keep the baby. They applied for adoption with the Cambodian government, but the United States had a moratorium on adopting the country's children.

The would-be parents managed to bring William back to the states through a humanitarian visa based on alleged medical problems.

Back in New York, Johnson and Bissoon looked for ways to skirt the moratorium. Bissoon claimed membership in an Native American tribe and tried to adopt the child in his native country, Trinidad and Tobago, but neither scheme worked, the decision says.

During that time, the boy lived with Johnson in her $62.3 million triplex in the Trump International Hotel & Tower on Central Park, being cared for by a nanny who had raised her four biological kids. Bissoon "was a constant visitor, was acknowledged as William's father, and he and his family were very much a part of William's life," according to the decision.

But when the couple's relationship soured in 2005, Johnson blocked Bissoon from seeing William. A year later she sought sole adoption of William and was granted one by Glen.

When he learned of what transpired, Bissoon challenged the adoption. In 2007 Glen rescinded her OK after learning Johnson didn't reveal that she and Bissoon had previously tried to adopt the child together. Johnson also failed to tell the judge that she had recently done a stint in rehab for alcohol.

With the legal win, Bissoon was re-introduced into William's life while Johnson remained the primary caregiver.

The case dragged on in appeals for three more years, with both sides hurling accusations of bad parenting. Johnson's lawyers claimed Bissoon was seeking a payday while his team painter her as a liar.

The case was sealed during that time, but both sides spoke publicly about the tug-of-war over the child.

In 2010, to the chagrin of Johnson, New York's highest court upheld Glen's decision. However, the ruling managed to thaw the frosty relationship between her and Bissoon.

Glen notes in her 2012 decision — which was not sealed — that after the Court of Appeal's ruling, Johnson began negotiations with Bissoon and described the situation as "much like that of two divorced parents ... with both sharing, however uncomfortably at times, decision-making authority."

The big winner in the adoption is William, who gets a legal mommy and a right to a lot of dough.

Glen says in her decision that "adoption will offer such a child numerous economic benefits, including the significant right of financial support from both of his parents."

The second-parent adoption will also allow the 9-year-old to apply for resident alien status and, eventually, U.S. citizenship. Glen notes that his medical visa expired and his current immigration status "is, at best, tenuous."

Neither Bissoon nor Johnson's lawyer returned a call for comment.