Legal Father Was More Involved, Report Said : Parenting: Primary custody was awarded based on his active involvement in 5-year-old girl's schooling and development.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A psychiatrist recommended that Kevin Thomas receive primary custody of a young girl with whom he shared no biological ties largely because he was more actively involved in the education and "special developmental needs" of the child, who was born with a rare congenital condition.

According to a confidential psychiatric evaluation prepared in the bitter legal battle over 5-year-old Courtney Thomas, it was Kevin Thomas rather than the child's biological mother who took her to school each day, dealt with her teachers, and often accompanied her to classes.

"Kevin Thomas provided more ongoing care and participated more actively in the ongoing care of Courtney than many birth parents," wrote Dr. Lionel Margolin, the Los Angeles psychiatrist who served as the court's expert. The report was submitted to the judge.

Thus the evaluation, provided to The Times by Kevin Thomas, recommended that Courtney live with him in Van Nuys during the school week and visit her mother, Catherine Thomas of Thousand Oaks, three weekends a month and two afternoons midweek. They would take turns on holidays.

It was the arrangement approved in June by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, who awarded Kevin Thomas paternity rights over Courtney and granted him primary custody despite the fact that they are unrelated. Kevin Thomas, who is openly gay and was once close friends with Courtney's mother, changed his surname from McCain to match the child's.

"It is my opinion that without Kevin Thomas' participation in the life of Courtney as her father, Courtney would not be doing as well as she is today," Margolin wrote.

Margolin also found that Courtney was comfortable with and "significantly attached to" both adults, who in turn were both "strongly bonded" to her.

He observed that Courtney called Kevin Thomas "Daddy." He also made no specific finding that Catherine Thomas was an unfit mother, although he was strongly critical of her illegally taking the girl to Canada once the custody battle began, leaving behind the eldest of her two teen-age sons.

"In my opinion," Margolin wrote, "both Cathy Thomas and Kevin Thomas provide important parenting to Courtney."

The evaluation also included mixed psychological profiles of Kevin and Catherine Thomas, both of whom were described by a consultant as "manipulative," having "considerable potential for emotional upset," and of tangling themselves in nasty charges and countercharges in their power struggle over the child. The consultant, Beverly Hills psychologist Carl F. Hoppe, seemed impressed by the parents' attempts to discredit each other and their acquaintances.

"The mutually contradictory and sometimes overlapping allegations raised by these two describe a web of allegedly psychotic doctors, drug-addicted lovers, polymorphous sexuality . . . parental neglect, financial avarice, mental instability and violence, kidnaping, and mendacity," wrote Hoppe, who administered a battery of personality tests to both Thomases.

Despite flaws, it was Kevin Thomas' intimate involvement in Courtney's education that apparently tipped the balance in his favor.

Courtney was born with a cyst on the brain known as Dandy Walker Syndrome, a condition which left her with mild retardation as well as heart and vision problems. Nonetheless, she was described by Margolin as a happy, sociable child who had made impressive developmental progress.

Arnold Freedland, an attorney for Catherine Thomas, said Saturday that Kevin's flexible work schedule had enabled him to manage Courtney's school schedule while his client had been tied to a 9-to-5 job. He said that Kevin Thomas had been among a circle of friends who provided Catherine with baby-sitting and other domestic support.

Kevin Thomas, 43, manages a bill-collection agency. Catherine Thomas, a 46-year-old single mother of three, held a clerical position at an insurance company before she fled with Courtney to Canada last September and forfeited her job.

"During the time that Kevin did things for Courtney, Cathy worked," Freedland said. "She was a single mom, and she worked. If there's a program while she's working, then she can't partake in the program . . . .

"So a single mother would rely on a friend if they offered, but friends don't turn around and then take their child."

Catherine Thomas ran with Courtney again in July, and was caught 10 days ago in Pittsburgh. She has pleaded not guilty to felony child abduction and is being held in County Jail in lieu of $120,000 bail.

Courtney is back with Kevin Thomas, who was awarded sole custody July 30 after the mother's most recent flight. Catherine Thomas' visitation rights were revoked as a result.

The former friends had a falling out during the summer of 1992, prompting Catherine to stop allowing Kevin to see Courtney. He filed suit seeking paternity rights that September.

Margolin described her as "a warm, friendly lady" who seemed "overwhelmed by the stresses of everyday living" and was overly dependent on others. He noted that she had adopted her 16-year-old son, bore her 13-year-old son during a stormy eight-year relationship and conceived Courtney during an affair with a drug addict 20 years her junior.

Kevin Thomas misled authorities in Canada when he went there to retrieve Courtney, Margolin noted. He told the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that he was the girl's biological father and denied being involved in a 25-year gay relationship, Margolin wrote, saying the statements "raised concerns in me."

Hoppe, meanwhile, said that while Kevin seemed better equipped than Catherine to deal with Courtney's medical and educational needs, he "appeared to be much more susceptible to episodes of seriously disturbed thinking" and "to be more emotionally explosive than Catherine."

"They have both made somewhat unusual lifestyle choices," Hoppe wrote.

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