Adopted [see correction] child returned to biological dad
Coeur d'Alene Press, The (ID)
Magistrate rules father never gave up parental rights to newborn son
Author: Marc Stewart; Staff Writer
COEUR d'ALENE – A Utah couple is in the midst of an adoption horror story after being told they must return the baby to its biological father in Coeur d'Alene because he never waived his parental rights.
Magistrate Barry Watson ruled that Matt Tenneson, 20, be given temporary primary custody of his 5 and 1/2-month old son and ordered Jed and Cally Nielson of American Fork, Utah, to relinquish custody as soon as possible.
"It seems Matthew is amenable to learning to be a father," Watson said. "My heart goes out to the Nielsons. Hopefully, (the custody transfer) is done in the least traumatic way."
Tuesday's ruling was another legal victory for Tenneson.
His attorney, Anne Solomon, argued that the adoption happened without his consent. The adoption agency, LDS Family Services, is appealing an earlier ruling that nullified the adoption.
"Matt never signed a consent to terminate his parental rights," Solomon said.
The birth mother, Cammie Knight, said she was shocked by Watson's decision.
"I still haven't come to grips with the fact my baby is coming home and we have the responsibility of taking him on," the 19-year-old Knight said. "We couldn't have done it then, and we still can't. We're going to be depending on two homes and having our parents support us financially."
Baby Knight was born last June and given to the Utah couple shortly thereafter, court records show.
Matt Tenneson's mother said her son won't be granting interviews for the foreseeable future.
"It's an ongoing case and we don't want to jeopardize that," Karen Tenneson said.
Court records indicate that Matt Tenneson stopped speaking with Knight around the seventh month of her pregnancy.
Knight described her relationship with Tenneson as non-existent and that he failed to support her during the pregnancy.
"I always had to take the initiative and call him," Knight said. "He never did that for me."
Knight said she and Tenneson discussed the baby's future often and that Tenneson was conflicted on what to do. Court records show that on one occasion Tenneson suggested she get an abortion.
When Knight refused that idea, they talked about adoption or keeping it.
"He couldn't make up his mind," Knight said. "It was emotionally wearing. My son needed a loving family. I still stick by my decision to give him up for adoption."
Cally Nielson told the Deseret Morning News that she and her husband are talking with their attorney to see how to handle the baby exchange.
"We're absolutely devastated," Nielson told the Utah paper in an emotional interview.
LDS Family Services handled the adoption for the Nielsons. The Mormon organization has filed an appeal of an earlier court ruling that gave Tenneson parental rights.
Knight said she picked LDS Family Services because her family is Mormon.
"I wanted the baby to have an actual home. I wanted him to have a good life," Cammie Knight said in court.
Knight said she believes Tenneson's parents are behind the custody battle
"I think a big part of this is Matt's mother," Knight said. "She wants to be a grandmother."
Watson cautioned the grandparents about becoming the primary custodians of the child.
"I want the grandparents to support this baby, but they need to take a back seat to the parents," Watson said.
Correction issued 12/22/07
A headline published on Dec. 12 and Friday's story about a custody dispute between a Utah couple and Matt Tenneson of Coeur d'Alene was incorrect. The child in question has not been adopted. The baby 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. LDS Family Services used the interstate compact to send the baby to a Utah couple for a possible adoption.