Revisiting an emotional issue of family law, the state Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a San Diego man could veto an adoption the day after his child was born.
Six of the seven justices, all but Ronald George, voted Thursday to review a lower court ruling that allowed the father, Mark King, to exercise parental rights on the grounds that he had shown a full commitment to assume parental responsibilities after the birth.
A hearing had been sought by the adoptive parents, John and Margaret Stenbeck of San Diego, and a lawyer appointed to represent the 3-year-old boy, who has lived with the couple since birth.
The case involves an issue that the state’s high court addressed in 1992, when it said a biological father who makes a prompt and thorough commitment to assuming parental responsibilities has the same right as the mother to veto an adoption.
King, of Prescott, Ariz., was 20 when he impregnated his 15-year-old girlfriend, Stephanie Harman, in 1990. He was surprised by the pregnancy because he had undergone a vasectomy, and he had twice beaten Harman, used drugs and attempted suicide halfway through the pregnancy, said the 4th District Court of Appeal.
The couple agreed to the adoption by the Stenbecks, but King changed his mind while recovering from his suicide attempt, the court said. However, he did not tell the Stenbecks until a day after the child, Michael, was born in February, 1991. Over the objections of Harman, from whom he had separated, he sued for custody.
Lawyers for the Stenbecks said in court papers that the appellate ruling in King’s favor “sends a brutal message both to unmarried teen-age women considering adoption and prospective adoptive parents and “opens the door to litigation threatening the prospects of a stable home environment.”
But King’s lawyer said his client was not to blame for the Stenbecks’ pain. “They chose to prevent him from having the child and they’re now suffering the consequences,” attorney Paula Mendell said after the appellate ruling in April. She also said she did not think the child was suffering because of the dispute.