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Dad's custody battle ends in hugs, kisses

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Old August 16th 03, 07:49 PM
Wex Wimpy
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Default Dad's custody battle ends in hugs, kisses

Dad's custody battle ends in hugs, kisses

CUSTODY DRAMA Dwayne Devore kisses his baby son Friday after receiving
legal custody of the 3-week-old boy. The first thing Devore did Give
him a name, Luke Gerald Devore. CANDACE BARBOT/HERALD STAFF

When Dwayne Devore learned he had become the father of a healthy
7-pound, 2-ounce son, he drove 100 miles through the desert to Las
Vegas and caught the first red-eye flight to Miami.

That was the easy part.

For three weeks, Devore fought to convince child welfare
administrators he was fit to raise his newborn son -- who was born to
a mother serving an 18-month prison sentence for forgery. But the
Department of Children & Families insisted at two separate hearings
that Devore had a criminal record and could not be trusted with his

Devore's record consisted of violating a noise ordinance and
``unlawful use of a phone.''

On Friday, after a DCF lawyer acknowledged in a Miami-Dade courtroom
that the agency had no reason to keep Devore from his son, Circuit
Judge Cindy Lederman gave Devore custody of the tow-headed baby.

The first thing Devore did was give the boy a name Luke Gerald Devore.
In court papers, Luke had been known as ''Baby Boy'' Moore.

Then Devore packed the infant into a car seat and drove him to
Sarasota, where both will live with Devore's sister until DCF
officials give him permission to return to Arizona. Until Friday,
Devore could have only supervised visits with his son at a foster-care

''One step further,'' said Devore, 28, as he picked his baby up and
kissed him on the forehead. ``Pretty soon, it will be hard to keep him
from grandma.''

Richard Wexler, director of the National Coalition for Child
Protection Reform, said Devore is not alone in his effort to gain
custody of a child from a system that moves painfully slow.


''I'm relieved that DCF finally realized this child desperately needed
a permanent home with his father,'' he said. ``But still, you have to
ask What took so long?''

DCF officials have maintained they needed the time to ensure that
Devore would be a safe and responsible parent for a vulnerable child.

Luke actually is Devore's third child -- but the only one who survived
more than a few weeks. His first child, Jacob Lee Devore, died after
22 days of a heart defect in 1998, after enduring nearly a half-dozen
surgeries. His daughter, Abigail Elizabeth Devore, was stillborn in

Luke was born at Kendall Regional Hospital on July 23. The child's
mother, Terry Moore, 24, is imprisoned at Broward Correctional


The day after his birth, Luke was taken to a foster-care shelter
operated by Children's Home Society.

Devore, who works for a family-owned security company, arrived on July
25, hours before a court hearing, expecting to take Luke home with him
to Fort Mojave, Ariz. In court, however, he learned DCF investigators
were asking Lederman to keep the boy in foster care. In a court
petition, the department said he had ``several charges and two
outstanding warrants.''

The charges turned out to be ordinance violations for excessive noise,
resulting in a $99.50 fine, and improper telephone calls -- using the
phone for a threat or obscenity. On Friday, a DCF attorney announced
the department would no longer seek to strip Devore of custody of his


''We don't have any basis we feel is sufficient, at this time, to file
against the father,'' said attorney Neil Carver.

But the drama did not end there. Moore's attorney, Tracy Howard,
argued that Lederman lacked jurisdiction to decide the baby's fate,
since neither Luke's mother nor his father live in Miami. She asked
Lederman to transfer the case to Charlotte County, where Moore has

But Lederman, who had expressed frustration at two prior hearings over
DCF's inability to quickly find a suitable home for Luke, decided to
give custody of the boy to Devore and his sister.


Devore can't take Luke home until Arizona authorities conduct a home
study to determine whether his home is a suitable place for the baby.

Devore walked out of the courtroom beaming. ''I'm elated,'' he said.
``I'm just glad I was able to prove I'm not a nasty parent.''

In his hands, he clutched a thick pocket notebook stuffed with digital
pictures of his new son, and scores of pages of legal documents and
courthouse records.

''My baby book,'' he said.


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