Gwinnett case prompts dads' rights bill

Relates to:
Date: 2006-11-16

Dave Williams
Gwinnett Daily Post

ATLANTA - When Rashad Head found out late last year that his girlfriend was pregnant, the Gwinnett County teenager said he decided he wanted to take responsibility for his unborn child.

"I made him," said Head, now 17, of Lawrenceville. "I don't want him to feel that he doesn't have a place in the world."

But Head's now ex-girlfriend thought differently. She decided to give up her son, who was born last July, and surrendered her parental rights to a Florida couple who are seeking to adopt the child.

It all happened without Head's permission or even his knowledge, which is allowable under Georgia law.

Now, Head's pastor at Christ the King Baptist Church in Dacula, who also happens to be a state legislator, wants to make sure no other Georgia father ever finds himself in a similar situation.

Rep. Ron Sailor, D-Decatur, Wednesday made "Rashad's Law" one of the first bills to be introduced into the General Assembly on the first day for prefiling legislation for the 2007 session.

"When a father is ready, willing and able to take care of a child, we believe the father's right to do so ought to be protected," Sailor said during a news conference at the Capitol.

Sailor's bill would prohibit unmarried mothers who want to surrender their parental rights from transferring custody of their child without the biological father's consent.

The father would have 30 days after receiving notice of the mother's intent to object to a third party gaining custody. If the father objects and the mother doesn't wish to maintain custody, the father would assume custody of the child.

Since the legislation would not be retroactive, it wouldn't affect Head's case, which is now pending in Gwinnett County Superior Court.

Leslie Gresham, the lawyer representing Head and his parents, said it's also possible that the case could be transferred to Florida.

She said a court order is now in effect that prohibits her client even from finding out the names of the Florida couple or where they are living with the child.

Head said all he has is a photo of his son that the child's mother sent him.

He said he is working part time, and his parents have offered to help support his son.

"I believe I could take care of a child as well as (the Florida couple) could," he said.

Gresham said she is optimistic that Head will prevail in court and win custody of his son.

"More and more, I think, courts ... are going with fathers' rights," she said.

Sailor said the General Assembly also has looked favorably on fathers' rights in recent sessions, giving him reason to be encouraged about his bill's prospects.

This year, the Legislature set new guidelines for child-support awards, a follow-up to a law enacted last year that requires judges to consider the incomes of both divorcing parents when awarding child support. Before the change, only the incomes of noncustodial parents were counted in child support awards.

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