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An unmarried father wins key victory in fight for child custody

Even though Tennessee and other states have become significantly more pro-fathers' rights in recent years, unmarried men can still face difficult challenges when trying to assert child custody or visitation rights -- a fact highlighted by the story that's the focus of today's post.

Two-and-a-half years ago, a baby boy was born to an unwed mother. For reasons that remain unclear, the mother left the infant in the care of a couple who were friends of her family. Soon after, the couple sought temporary legal guardianship of the baby and eventually hoped to adopt him, a process which also meant legally terminating the parental rights of both biological parents.

In a Maine probate court hearing, the baby's mother told the probate court judge she had had three different partners around the time of conception and couldn't be sure who the real father was. Court records also indicate that during her pregnancy, the mother told the man who's now seeking a relationship with the boy that he might be the child's father but that she planned to have an abortion.

By the time the man learned that she hadn't followed through with that plan -- four months after the boy was born -- the aforementioned couple had already been appointed as the boy's legal guardians.

Over the next several months, the man tried unsuccessfully to get the legal guardianship rescinded and establish his rights as a father - efforts that were hindered by the fact that he was serving a jail sentence in another state. After his release in January 2011, the man's first move was to travel back to Maine for a hearing on whether he should be granted parental rights.

Unfortunately, the judge ruled against him, which essentially amounted to a termination of his rights as a father. Undaunted by that decision, the man continued to press his case and last month, the Maine Supreme Court vacated the earlier probate court decision terminating the man's parental rights.

While pleased with the court's ruling, the decision did not grant the man fathers' rights to custody or visitation. Now, DNA tests will have to establish that he is the boy's biological father before he can go back to a probate court to establish his parental rights.

Source: The Bangor Daily News, "Maine supreme court sides with man trying to gain custody of son," Bill Trotter, April 21, 2012

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