Biological dad loses bid for custody of girl Couple can adopt child they raised


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- A Florida man's attempt to wrench his biological daughter away from the only parents she has known failed when a judge ruled in favor of the Florida couple seeking to adopt her.

Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Gary Vonhof cleared the way yesterday for the adoption of year-old Emily by Angel and Stephen Welsh, who have raised her since she was 3 days old, according to their attorney, Charlotte Danciu.

Judge Vonhof ruled the biological father, Gary Bjorklund, of Pompano Beach, could not block the adoption because he had not provided meaningful financial and emotional support during the pregnancy, Ms. Danciu said. The biological mother, Linda Benco of Boca Raton, supported the adoption.

"I've loved her from the day I conceived her and I wanted her to have the best of everything," said Ms. Benco, 28, a single mother with three sons from a previous relationship. "It's been a long year of waiting, not knowing."

Craig Boudreau, the attorney for the biological father, had no comment other than to say he would appeal the decision. Mr. Bjorklund, 36, who has tried to keep the case and his identity private, also refused to comment on the decision.

News of the judge's ruling came to Angel Welsh in a phone call while she was at work teaching drama at Walker Elementary School of the Arts in Fort Lauderdale.

"Through the echoes of my school, you could hear me screaming," said Ms. Welsh, 34, who immediately went home and held her napping daughter. "I feel like I'm floating right now."

"We felt that a great weight was lifted," said Stephen Welsh, 35. "Now we just look forward to the rest of our lives."

The Welshes thanked Ms. Benco -- who held Angel Welsh's hand throughout a teary-eyed news conference yesterday -- for her support. The couple could not have children of their own and had been trying for six years to adopt.

"I tell Emily the story of a very special lady who provided us with her," Angel Welsh said. "Emily one day will know Linda and we don't have any problem with that. We will always be Emily's mommy and daddy."

Ms. Danciu and Stuart Manoff, the attorney representing Emily, said they could not release a copy of Judge Vonhof's ruling because Florida law requires the proceedings to be confidential. They said they expect the adoption to be finalized within a few weeks.

Mr. Bjorklund had lived with Ms. Benco for about 1 1/2 years. Ms. Benco said she left him when she was about seven months' pregnant, after learning Mr. Bjorklund had served time in a Minnesota prison for rape from 1978 to 1981.

Ms. Danciu said even though Mr. Bjorklund had lived with Ms. Benco for part of the pregnancy, Judge Vonhof found abandonment. She said the judge's decision followed the Florida Supreme Court ruling in a 1989 case, Doe vs. Roe.

In that case, the Supreme Court said a biological father who fails to provide support to the mother before the birth of his child loses his right to prevent her from giving the baby up for adoption.

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