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Family law issues: Be sure they get handled in the right venue

If there is a hard and fast statement that can be made about how courts in Mississippi and the rest of the U.S. seek to deal with child custody disputes, it is that decisions are supposed to be based on the best interests of the child.

What constitutes those best interests is always subject to interpretation. Individual parents may have one idea. Children might have another. Where parent rights and children's interests appear to clash, the courts wind up making the final call and the eventual outcome may not be what everyone would consider to be ideal. But due process needs to be followed.

This is brought to mind by virtue of a case out of Nebraska. On one side is a mother of three and their stepfather who wants to adopt the children. On the other is the biological father of the siblings. He is in a Missouri prison serving time for molesting his daughter when she was 6. She is now 14. Her brothers are younger.

According to a report about the case, the stepfather wants to adopt the children so that they can be covered by benefits he receives from military service. But under Nebraska law, adoptions can only be pursued if both biological parents consent, and the incarcerated father in this instance isn't willing to give up his parental rights without a fight.

One exception under the law that would allow the adoption is if the father could be shown to have abandoned the children. And that is the argument that the stepfather and mother made when they pressed forward with their adoption effort.

Their argument is that adoption would be in the best interest of the children and that the father's crime was an intentional act that resulted in prison and his abandonment of the children. One court agreed with that framing, but an appeals court reversed the decision. It noted the father has maintained contact with the children and paid child support, so the abandonment exception didn't apply.

An attorney for the biological father says his client doesn't have any expectations of ever being able to have custody of his children, but he says he wants to maintain visitation rights with his sons and will fight to maintain them, regardless of what legal course his ex-wife and the stepfather choose to take.

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