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Neb. court: Missouri man waited too long to be girl's dad

Neb. court: Missouri man waited too long to be girl's dad

June 2nd, 2012 by TIMBERLY ROSS, Associated Press in News

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - A St. Louis man who found out three years ago that he had a nearly 10-year-old daughter living in Omaha does not have custody rights to her because he waited too long to seek them and he failed to follow up after learning the girl's mother might be pregnant, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday.

Todd Withrow learned from a co-worker that a former flame, Amy Long, travelled from Omaha to St. Louis looking to speak with him in 1999 and that she might be pregnant, but he never tried reaching out to her, the high court said in its decision, which overturned a lower court's order transferring custody of the now 12-year-old girl to Winthow from the Omaha man who helped raise her, Jeffrey Bulduc.

"While Todd slept on his rights, Jeffrey fulfilled the obligations of a father," the opinion said.

Buldoc, who was also romantically involved with Long in the spring of 1999, was established as the girl's father in a 2001 court decree that granted him visitation rights and ordered him to pay child support. That changed in 2005, when the state removed the girl from Long's care and gave custody to Bulduc. The records explaining the reasons Long lost custody are sealed.

The state Supreme Court opinion does not list the last names of the parties involved in the case, but they are identified in Sarpy County District Court records.

Long's attorney, Tony Liakos, said the high court made a tough, albeit correct, decision.

"Whether or not Jeff is the biological father, it is the right decision for her stay with him," he said.

A message left Friday for Withrow's attorney wasn't immediately returned. A call to an attorney listed for Bulduc, who has been raising the girl, rang unanswered.

Long was sexually involved with both men when she became pregnant, according to court records. Withrow was in Omaha for a construction job but returned to St. Louis before Long realized she was pregnant. Long believed Bulduc was the father but still went to visit Withrow to determine whether their relationship was viable. She was unable to see him and never told him she was pregnant, but two of his co-workers with whom she spoke told him they suspected she was pregnant and told Withrow.

Court records say Withrow didn't believe he could be the father of Long's child and never attempted to contact her. In 2009, Long contacted Withrow because she then believed he was the father, based on physical similarities. A paternity test confirmed her suspicion.

Long sought in 2009 to regain custody of her daughter. Withrow, who recently learned he was the biological father, sought to intervene in that case and establish parental rights.

The district court ruled that Withrow sought to establish those rights within two years of the paternity test and that he was fit to be a parent, so he was granted custody of the girl.

Long and Bulduc appealed, and the high court overturned Withrow's parental rights and sent the case back to district court to consider Long's request to have custody. The opinion says the court has discretion is sorting parental matters that involve non-biological parents who assume those responsibilities.

Liakos said the girl is now aware that Withrow is her biological father and has visited him in Missouri. The district court order giving Withrow custody was put on hold while the high court considered the appeal.