Judges Weigh in on Baby Battle

Relates to:
Date: 2008-01-04

Coeur d'Alene Press, The (ID)

Utah magistrate agrees not to finalize adoption until issues are resolved

Author: Marc Stewart; Staff writer

COEUR d'ALENE — Matt Tenneson's legal battle to regain custody of his son might take years and cost thousands of dollars because the Mormon-sponsored adoption agency is vowing to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

Meanwhile, his 6-month-old son is being raised by an American Fork, Utah, couple who are defying a court order to return him to Coeur d'Alene.

"I've communicated with a judge in Utah who refuses to finalize the adoption until the issues in Idaho have been resolved," Magistrate Barry Watson said Thursday during a court hearing. "Despite what's been reported in the newspapers, there is no adoption."

The baby in question was sent to Utah through an interstate compact, which is a legal agreement between states that allows for the custody of children to be transferred from Idaho to Utah.

The birth mother, Cammie Knight, used LDS Family Services and gave up her child to the adoption agency shortly after he was born last summer. The agency used the interstate compact to send the baby to Jed and Cally Nielson for a possible adoption.

Tenneson previously said Knight did this without his knowledge and that he wants to raise his son.

Kent Foster, an Idaho Falls-based attorney for LDS Family Services, called the circumstances around the custody case "extremely unusual" and said the Kootenai County court erred by giving Tenneson parental rights and awarding him temporary primary custody of the child.

"I think everyone needs to read the statute," Foster said Thursday.

"Mr. Tenneson had numerous opportunities to establish his constitutional rights and he didn't do that."

Tenneson declined to speak to The Press about this story. His father, Dave Tenneson, said their family is willing to spend whatever it takes to get the child back.

"We'll go into debt, but somehow we will get it done," Tenneson said.

They have hired an attorney in Utah to enforce Watson's order to return the baby immediately.

Foster said the legal war would be costly for both sides.

"It's going to be horrendous," Foster said. "Many thousands of dollars will be spent. But we have to do it."

Both sides are waiting for 1st District Judge John Mitchell to hear an appeal filed by LDS Family Services that challenges an earlier ruling which affirmed Matt Tenneson's parental rights. Tenneson claims he was unaware the child had been given up for a possible adoption. No hearing date has been set.

Last month, Magistrate Barry Watson ordered the Nielsons to return the 6-month-old baby to Tenneson.

On Wednesday, Watson denied a motion by Knight to reconsider that ruling and let the baby stay in Utah until the LDS appeal is resolved.

Watson also set a custody trial between Matt Tenneson and Knight for April 29. Attorneys representing them said they were both agreeable to mediation.

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