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Appeals court hears arguments in unusual custody battle

An unusual and emotional custody fight made its way to the Illinois Appellate Court last week. The case involves a man who is asking for custody and visitation of the child his ex-wife adopted during their brief marriage. The problem is that he never filed stepparent adoption papers.

According to court documents, the adoption was under way when the couple married in 2009. The petitioner's ex-wife had assured him that he was the child's father and listed him as the father on the child's birth certificate. The marriage ended about a year later.

He explained to the press that he didn't have time to file the adoption papers -- he thought the marriage would last forever, so he concentrated on caring for the children and looking for work in Illinois (he had relocated from Wisconsin). His ex-wife had one adopted child when they met, and the couple adopted a third child during their marriage.

Part of his argument is that the son in question, now 3 years old, will be confused and emotionally harmed by seeing his father spend time with the youngest child while he hasn't seen his dad for over a year. The petitioner insists that he is the child's father and a legal "hyper-technicality" should not stand in the way of his relationship with his child.

His ex-wife's attorney says it is his own fault. His ex-wife told him more than once to file the adoption papers as soon as possible, the attorney continued. And, no matter what his wife told him about being the child's father, she doesn't make the decision. The law does.

During the parties' arguments, the appellate panel did not show much sympathy for the petitioner. They asked why they should change the law for one person. They also asked why he believed he had any parental rights at all.

The court could take days or months to decide the case. It may be a tough decision, considering the presiding judge's comment that the arguments were the most emotional he'd seen in a long time.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "3-year-old adoptee at center of unusual custody fight," Steve Schmadeke, Jan. 29, 2012

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