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MOTHER WINS TUG-OF-WAR ROUND\Court rules against ex-friend in custody of girl.

Byline: Mary Beth Alexander Daily News Staff Writer

An appeals court ruling has rekindled a bitter battle between the mother of Courtney Thomas and the former friend who was awarded custody of the child even though he has no biological ties to the girl.

The Second District Court of Appeals has overturned a Los Angeles County Superior Court ruling that declared Kevin Thomas to be Courtney's "natural father" - and ordered the court to reconsider the custody decision.

The appellate court made its ruling Thursday - on Courtney's eighth birthday. Attorneys on both sides of the case claimed victory Friday.

"The opinion states that the court was in error in finding Kevin (Thomas) to have been the natural father of Courtney. As he is not the natural father, he should not have been given custody over the rights of the mother," said attorney Michael Goch, who has represented Courtney's mother, Catherine Thomas, during the appeal.

Kevin Thomas' attorney said he is confident the Superior Court judge still will find Courtney is better off with the man who has raised her all her life - rather than the woman who once abducted the girl during the custody fight.

"I have very little doubt that (the court) will leave everything the way it is," said attorney Glen Schwarz. "Otherwise, it would be very detrimental to this child."

Neither lawyer would speculate how soon the new custody trial would take place.

In the meantime, Courtney remains with Kevin Thomas, who said Friday he wasn't discouraged by the ruling - even though it found he was not Courtney's father.

"The title never was nearly as important to me as loving Courtney, and raising Courtney, and spending my life with Courtney," Thomas, 45, said. "I am certainly no less devoted or even affected by this ruling today."

The Thomas family formerly lived in Van Nuys, although Thomas would not say where he and Courtney are living now. Kevin Thomas changed his last name to match his daughter's.

Catherine Thomas, who lives in Las Vegas with her 15-year-old son and her fiance, said she is certain her daughter will be returned to her.

"I'm going to get my daughter back," Catherine Thomas, 48 said during a telephone interview. "It's just been very difficult. It's just been a part of our family missing."

The appellate court found that Kevin Thomas should not have been named Courtney's "natural father," because he was not the biological father, nor was he the husband or partner of Courtney's mother.

Under the law, a parent who is not the natural parent can't be awarded custody over the biological parent's objections, unless it is determined that giving the natural parent custody would be bad for the child.

As a result, the court ruled Catherine Thomas' rights may have been denied when Superior Court Judge Martha Goldin gave custody to Kevin Thomas.

The appellate court stated the order to reconsider custody did not mean that the current situation was bad for Courtney - or that giving custody to Catherine Thomas would be better for the child.

Although never romantically involved with the mother, Kevin Thomas helped raise Courtney from birth.

Kevin Thomas and Catherine Thomas were close friends for nearly 17 years, but their relationship began to deteriorate around 1992, and the custody battle started soon after.

Based on the child's perception of Thomas as her "daddy," Goldin named him the legal father and gave him primary custody. Courtney is mildly retarded with a rare condition known as Dandy Walker syndrome. In the Superior Court ruling, Goldin said Courtney would live with Kevin Thomas, whom she felt was more attentive to her special needs.

On July 29, 1993, a month after Goldin issued the custody order, Catherine Thomas kidnapped Courtney, then age 5, and spirited her across country under an assumed name.

Mother and daughter were apprehended two months later by Pittsburgh police and sent back to Los Angeles. The child was returned to Kevin Thomas, and Catherine Thomas was sentenced to probation.

CAPTION(S):

PHOTO

Photo (1) CATHERINE THOMAS (2) COURTNEY THOMAS (3) KEVIN THOMAS
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 10, 1996
Words:677
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