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Father stunned by child support demands in custody battle

The StarPhoenix, Saskatoon, SK, By Lori Coolican, Saturday, October 14, 2006

A Saskatoon father who is battling with a Prince Albert couple for custody of his five-month-old son got a shock this week in the form of a letter demanding that he pay them child support.

"Shame on them," Rick Fredrickson said in an interview, after learning the couple who left a Saskatoon hospital with his newborn son this spring -- while he desperately sought help asserting his paternity and right to custody -- now wants access to his financial records in order to calculate how much he should pay them for the child's care.

Fredrickson's former girlfriend didn't tell him she was pregnant after their relationship ended last year. He found out in April, not long before his son was born, when one of her relatives called to warn him she'd been telling people he was the father and had already arranged a private adoption for the baby because she didn't want to raise it herself.

Fredrickson, who is now engaged to a woman who can no longer have children of her own, immediately began approaching government authorities to say he wanted his son. He was repeatedly told to get a lawyer and seek a paternity test after the birth.

The baby had already been whisked from the hospital into the custody of the Prince Albert couple -- and had already been given their last name -- by the time Fredrickson found out the child had been born. Although a paternity test proved his fatherhood in July, he still has not had a chance to hold his only child.

At a family court hearing on Oct. 4, a judge granted Fredrickson and his fiance, Barb Hesketh-Jones, a weekly one-hour visit with the baby under supervision at a Prince Albert facility.

Arrangements were made for the first visit to take place this week, but the couple who has custody of the baby cancelled the appointment and claimed it was an inconvenient time for them, Hesketh-Jones said. No new date has been set.

The family court judge said Fredrickson's status as the baby's natural father is "not a trump card" when it comes to winning custody, adding the Prince Albert couple has spent five months bonding with the baby and that weighs in their favour. He ordered a trial and promised an early pre-trial date to speed up the process, but as of Friday no date had been set.

Hesketh-Jones said she's stunned the Prince Albert couple is demanding child support, especially since they didn't raise the issue in court.

Both she and Fredrickson have been working multiple jobs to pay the legal bills and other costs associated with the custody battle, including paying for a $2,500 "home assessment" to ensure they can provide a suitable environment for the baby -- an assessment they passed with fl ying colours, but which the well-off Prince Albert couple never had to undergo.

If his son's mother was the one asking for child support, he would pay it immediately, Fredrickson said.

"Last week, (their lawyer said) Rick was a sperm donor," Hesketh-Jones said. "It gets Read More ..zarre every day. Come hell or high water, we will find the money to fight this." Two national advocacy groups have taken an interest in Fredrickson's custody battle since it hit the media last month.

The case flies in the face of both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which talk about children's right to be raised by their biological parents whenever possible, said Grant Wilson of the Canadian Children's Rights Council in Ontario.

Kris Titus, a board member of the Canadian arm of the international advocacy group Fathers 4 Justice, is organizing a trip to Saskatoon later this month to draw attention to the case.

Titus hopes to set up a trust fund to help Fredrickson and Hesketh-Jones with legal bills.

The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2006