Man who was deceived about paternity retains custody

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled that people who deceive their spouses into thinking that a child is theirs cannot later contest their right to custody -- even if DNA tests show they are not the parent.

The court unanimously upheld a lower court ruling granting primary custody to Ren Ricky Hinshaw, whose wife led him to believe he was the father of their child until they divorced and she produced genetic testing showing the child wasn't his.

In an opinion issued Thursday, the court said that the "acts, language and silence" of Hinshaw's ex-wife, Jacqueline Lenarz, "were aimed at misleading Ren into believing he was Asher's biological father." The court also said that while they were married, she intended for him and the child to develop a strong father-son relationship.

The Courier-Journal outlined the case in a March 18, 2007, story about how courts are grappling with vexing questions about what makes a father a father -- whether it is the man who contributed the sperm or the one who changed a child's diapers, taught her how to ride a bike and took her to soccer practice.

The story described how Hinshaw, then 58, was fighting to retain joint custody of a child he helped raise and loves as his own, even after finding out the boy was not his biological child.

"He is my son, and I am his dad," Hinshaw said at the time.

Hinshaw's lawyer, Stephen Imhoff, said his client, who has had primary custody of the child pending the ruling, is pleased.

"It's been a long haul, and he is extremely happy," Imhoff said.

Lenarz's lawyer, Peter Ostermiller, said she was disappointed and that they are reviewing whether there are grounds for an appeal in federal court.

The Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Justice Bill Cunningham, described how Hinshaw was in the delivery room when the boy he thought was his son was born in 1999.

Hinshaw, a technology consultant at the University of Louisville's Kornhauser Health Sciences Library, cut the umbilical cord and later taught the boy to talk and volunteered at his school, according to court records.

But when Lenarz, also a librarian, divorced Hinshaw in 2003, she disclosed he wasn't the biological father and asked Jefferson Family Court to deny him custody, citing DNA tests which showed he couldn't be the father.

A court-appointed psychologist who met with the child concluded he had bonded with Hinshaw and that severing the relationship would cause the boy "severe emotional and psychological harm," the Supreme Court noted.

It also said that a family court judge, awarding principal custody to Hinshaw, said that his wife had "always represented, both to Ren and the world," that he was the child's father.

The Court of Appeals last year affirmed the decision, but Lenarz appealed.

The Supreme Court said that if Hinshaw had known that he wasn't the father when the child was born, he could have tried to adopt him.

Reporter Andrew Wolfson can be reached at (502) 582-7189.


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