Nebraska court affirms dads’ consent in adoptions

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - For a second time, the Nebraska Supreme Court has ruled that a father who was intentionally misled about the birth of his child can stop the baby’s adoption.

In a ruling Friday, the state's high court said that the consent of the father, listed in the case at hand only as Jeremiah J. in court documents, is required by state law for the child to be put up for adoption. Further, the high court said the child’s mother, identified only as Dakota D., failed to prove that Jeremiah met any of the state laws exceptions for consent, because she did not show he had abandoned her or the child or that he would be an unfit parent.

Court documents say Jeremiah learned in June 2011 that Dakota, his ex-girlfriend, was pregnant. Five months later, Jeremiah was contacted by an adoption agency caseworker who told him that he had been identified as the baby’s father and that Dakota planned to put the baby, due Feb. 18, 2012, up for adoption. Jeremiah told the caseworker he did not want that, then tried many times to reach Dakota, but she refused to return his calls, records said.

The child was born Feb. 9, but Jeremiah was not told of the birth. Jeremiah finally contacted Dakota on Feb. 13, but she did not tell him the baby had been born. Jeremiah also repeatedly called the hospital and caseworker to try to learn of the birth, but they refused to tell him, citing privacy policies. The adoption was put on hold after Jeremiah filed his appeal.

Dakota later testified in court that she did not tell Jeremiah of the child’s birth because she did not want him to know about it during the five days he had to object to the adoption.

A Hall County court ruled in the mother’s favor, saying Jeremiah could have hired an attorney sooner, but the Nebraska Supreme Court reversed that ruling last year, noting the mother’s deception. The lower court then ruled in Jeremiah’s favor, and Dakota appealed, arguing that Jeremiah is not a fit parent because he has an unstable work history, has used drugs and has a criminal record, among other things.

She also argued that Jeremiah neglected the child after she was born, and did not provide financial support for her or the child.

But the state’s high court rejected those arguments Friday, saying Jeremiah’s criminal record consisted of misdemeanor convictions as a teen. The court also noted that Jeremiah has denied any drug use, and that he has a stable job paying more than $12 an hour.

“And in any event, low income or an unstable job history does not alone establish parental unfitness,” Nebraska Supreme Court Judge Michael McCormack wrote for the court.

The high court also rejected arguments that Jeremiah did not provide financial support.

“Dakota clearly does not want to have Jeremiah in the life of the child, and she chose to not provide Jeremiah with a fair opportunity to offer financial support,” McCormack wrote.

Jeremiah’s attorney, Mark Porto, of Grand Island, said the next step will be to file a paternity action in an effort to then establish custody and visitation issues.

“He’s thrilled that he’ll be able to be a part of his daughter’s life,” Porto said.

An attorney for Dakota did not immediately return a message left Friday.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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