Birkhead Sys He Doesn't Plan To Share Legal Custody Of Smith's Baby

Wednesday, April 11th 2007, 7:30 pm
By: News On 6

NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) _ A former boyfriend of Anna Nicole Smith said Wednesday that he doesn't intend to share custody of their baby daughter, but hopes he can avoid a major court battle over the issue.

Larry Birkhead, speaking a day after a court announced that DNA tests proved he was the father of the deceased model's child, said he doesn't want to go from one legal fight to another.

``I'm hoping that's not the case because, you know, there's only one dad, and I have no problem with anyone that has good intentions being allowed to visit the baby and see the baby and be a part of the baby's life,'' he told NBC's ``Today'' show from the Bahamas.

However, Birkhead said he has no intentions of sharing custody of 7-month-old Dannielynn.

``It would imply that I'm unfit as a parent, which I'm not,'' the Los Angeles photographer said. ``I'm looking forward to giving Dannielynn everything that she needs and all the love and support.''

A hearing is scheduled for Friday during which a judge is expected to discuss who will raise the baby. Smith's lawyer-turned-partner Howard K. Stern, who has been caring for the baby since Smith's sudden death in February, said he wouldn't fight for custody. But a lawyer for Smith's mother, Virgie Arthur, indicated she might.

Attorney Wayne Munroe, a Bahamian attorney handling Smith's estate, said Wednesday he will support giving full custody to Birkhead.

He said Stern, who is executor of Smith's will, instructed him to resist any custody claim made by Smith's mother, Virgie Arthur, who was estranged from her daughter at the time the reality TV star collapsed and died in February in Florida.

The new legal strategy makes allies of Birkhead and Stern, who feuded over paternity until the DNA announcement.

``It has the effect of making my enemy my friend in this case,'' Munroe told The Associated Press.

Arthur, who met Dannielynn for the first time after Smith's death, would have difficulty winning even partial custody because of her estrangement from her daughter, according to Joshua Forman, a family law attorney in New York.

Still, Birkhead may want to reach a visitation agreement with Arthur to discourage her from pursuing further legal action in U.S. or Bahamian courts, said William Hilton, a California-based lawyer who specializes in international custody disputes.

``If I were the dad here, I would probably negotiate with the grandparent and get some contact time,'' Hilton said from his office in Santa Clara, Calif.

``It seems to me they're in a position where the grandparent, Stern and the natural father could all get together and work out an arrangement. I suspect if they did that ... that might satisfy the Bahamian court.''

Birkhead, a 34-year-old photographer, visited Dannielynn several hours after the announcement of the DNA test results Tuesday, feeding her apple sauce with some coaching from Stern, ``Entertainment Tonight'' reported. The two men have discussed a possible transition period during which each would spend time with the baby, according to Stern's lawyers.

Munroe said the proof of Birkhead's paternity should end the custody dispute.

``My understanding of the law is that parents have control over their children,'' said Munroe, who also represents Smith's interests in continuing litigation over ownership of the oceanfront home where she lived with Stern.

Separately, a judge held a status hearing in the inquest into the death of Smith's 20-year-old son, Daniel, but adjourned the session without taking any action. Another hearing was scheduled for Tuesday in the Bahamian Coroner's Court. The inquest has been stalled by an appeal from Stern to submit a questionnaire to potential jurors.

Dannielynn Hope Marshall Stern was born in Nassau on Sept. 7, only three days before Daniel died at his mother's hospital bedside from a lethal combination of drugs.

Smith died in Florida on Feb. 8, at the age of 39, also from a deadly mix of prescription drugs.

The baby could potentially inherit millions from the estate of Smith's late husband, J. Howard Marshall II. The former model had been fighting the Texas oil tycoon's family over his estimated $500 million fortune since his death in 1995, and that battle remains unresolved.

It remains unclear how much, if any, of the Marshall estate Dannielynn could obtain and whether her guardian would have any access to the money.