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April 29, 2013

Michigan father granted right to fight for custody of biological daughter

By Sara Kandel
C & G Staff Writer

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Daniel Quinn has been fighting to see his biological daughter since 2008, when she was moved out of state and a state law gave all paternity rights to her stepfather.
Quinn’s fight led lawmakers to change the Michigan Paternity Act in 2012, giving him the ability to have legal standing to fight for custody of his biological daughter.
 

LIVINGSTON COUNTY — It’s been years of waiting, but a 34-year-old Hartland man will finally have his day in court.

For three years, an “archaic” state law prevented a Michigan father from having parental standing over his biological daughter, but that law was changed late last year, and on May 10, Daniel Quinn is scheduled to get the custody hearing he’s been waiting for.

Quinn hasn’t seen his 7-year-old daughter, Maeleigh, in four years, since her biological mother won custody due to the Michigan Paternity Act and moved her out of the state, refusing to facilitate visitation. She didn’t have to. State law, in Michigan and elsewhere, didn’t require it.

When Candace Beckwith gave birth to Maeleigh March 23, 2006, she still was legally married to another man, and even after a paternity test proved Quinn was Maeleigh’s father, state law recognized Beckwith’s husband as Maeleigh’s father.

At first, Adam Beckwith didn’t want anything to do with Maeleigh.

“His becoming involved was so disingenuous,” said Gregory Rohl, who’s representing Quinn in the custody hearing. “He never really cared about Maeleigh. He did it as a political maneuver for the mother, and then even though he went on the record and said he wanted to raise the child, he went and used her as a shield in a drug-trafficking operation.”

For two years, Quinn and Candace Beckwith raised Maeleigh together, but when Candance Beckwith decided to return to her husband, from whom she reportedly maintained she was divorced, Quinn instantly lost all rights over his daughter. That was four years ago, and Quinn’s been fighting to get her back ever since.

Quinn filed with the Michigan Court of Appeals, but before his day in court ever came, he was contacted by Ohio Child Protective Services and summonsed to appear in court there on Maeleigh’s behalf.

It turned out the Beckwiths were involved in a multi-state drug trafficking investigation — allegedly using the children as decoys, to mask any suspicion, while transporting large quantities of psilocybin mushrooms, ecstasy and marijuana across state lines — and faced felony drug and child abuse charges in Kentucky and Ohio.

An Ohio court acknowledged Quinn as Maeleigh’s natural father, but, following precedent set by Michigan’s custody ruling, placed her with her siblings in the care of Adam Beckwith’s parents while the couple awaited trial.

A custody hearing in Kentucky saw similar results — he was named the father but denied custody because of the ruling in Michigan court.

Candace Beckwith pleaded down the charges and, instead of jail time, received probation. The children were returned to her but considered wards of the state of Kentucky, pending the completion of a two-year child protective services plan that has since been completed.

Attempts to reach Candace Beckwith were not returned at press time. Adam Beckwith remains incarcerated.

“She went through a lot of things and we know as adults what her mother has done, and frankly this other man, and we know it’s wrong to neglect a child, to put a child in that sort of situation is dead wrong. But looking through the eyes of a 7-year-old little girl, she doesn’t see Mommy did something horribly wrong; she sees Mommy,” Quinn said.

Quinn continued his fight in Michigan. And, eventually state Sen. Steve Bieda, who represents Eastpointe, heard Quinn’s story and began championing the cause on Quinn’s behalf, leading to the changes in the Michigan Paternity Act in late 2012.

“The changes we made modernized an archaic law to reflect common sense, decency and the most basic of human traits — a deep concern for the welfare of children and their parental bonds,” Bieda said. “I’m happy to have played a role in reuniting Dan and his daughter, Maeleigh.”

They are on the way to being reunited. With the changes to the law, Quinn was given the right to file for parental standing, and in early 2013, a Livingston County judge granted him that right. As a legal parent, Quinn now has a right to fight for custody of his daughter, and that’s just what he’s doing.

“I made a promise before that I would always protect my daughter, when my daughter was born, and I will continue to do that, but I made a more recent promise, and that’s that I would fight this fight the rest of the way, standing in Maeleigh’s shoes and looking through Maeleigh’s eyes,” Quinn said.

He’s starting off slowly, with phone conversations four nights a week, but he’s hoping to see his little girl again by summer.

“To his credit, I think Dan recognizes that we have a child here that has grown up without him and can’t just be re-submerged into the family,” Rohl said. “There has to be some kind of transitional process. He’s cool with it and I like that. They are working to re-acclimate her to not just him, but the whole family.

“Apparently, she is now recognizing names of cousins and people in the family who she knew well three years ago, and that’s a good thing. I’m trying to foster the slow acclimation process so that she doesn’t get freaked out. The ultimate transition, in our mind, is that custody is best vested with my client and he is in the best position to nurture the child.”

Even then, Quinn plans to do everything he can to foster a relationship between Maeleigh and her mother. He says his daughter deserves that.

“My goal as a parent is to encourage forgiveness when she finally understands what mommy did because, at the end of the day, I want her to be able to talk to her mom and have a relationship with her mother,” Quinn said. “When she is at college and has boy issues she can’t talk to me about, I want that to be available to her.”

Rohl suspects the May 10 court date will likely be pushed back, and while Quinn is more anxious than ever to finally see his daughter again, he’s remaining patient; rushing things would be more for him than Maeleigh anyway, and he says that’s not what this is about.

“Ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s not about me. It’s never been about me; it has always been about Maeleigh,” he said. “It always will be about Maeleigh.”