By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Although she calls Swann "Dad," she is not his biological progeny. Under Arizona law, a nonbiological father who hasn't adopted his child has no legal right to guardianship. In fact, in Arizona, the "biological father," after impregnating a woman and skipping town for years, perhaps never even meeting the fruit of his coital labor, can waltz back into the child's life and wrest custodial rights away from the hapless guy who did all the work raising the kid.
As Swann puts it online, "Because of a brutal irony in Arizona statute and case law, my fatherhood of my daughter has been denied. ... I am said to be not her father because I failed to ejaculate in her behalf, and a man who did nothing but ejaculate and then cheerfully ignored her for six and a half years is held to be her father."
Swann married the girl's mother seven years ago, after she told him she was pregnant by a boyfriend. Swann now explains his proposal of marriage as "not asmart thing to do. But I was ready to be a father, frankly. And so here it was, a family ready-made. Like moving into a spec home."
It never occurred to Swann to legally adopt the child. Had he done so, the statewould have recognized him as the girl's legal father. Instead, Swann now finds himself mired in legal complications: Late last year, Ann Swann and her daughter's biological father--now Ann's fiancŽ--filed a petition of paternity with the courts. Swann claims the petition, which he never disputed, was a legal tactic to deny Swann a chance to fight for custody of the child.
Swann explains that, ultimately, his reason for broadcasting his domestic trauma to the world is to push for the reform of an antiquated law. "What we have here," says Swann, "is cowboy law--in Arizona, this law goes back to the days before statehood. It's basically the same kind of law that governs mining claims: You staked this claim 195 years ago, and therefore it's still yours even though you've done nothing to improve it."
Frustrated by a series of rejected appeals to the court, Swann began arguing his case on the Internet last year. He also dispatched electronic appeals to various Internet interest groups, urging them to write to legislators and demand that the antiquated law be repealed.
And so it goes in digital divorce court. As the convoluted case spills into nonvirtual court next week, Swann continues to make his case on the Web. "The courts are a very highly structured environment where nobody gets to talk," says Swann. "My lawyer gets to speak, but it comes outsounding like lawyerese. The system is really designed to prevent anyone fromtalking. The Internet is a way to talk about this case, and it's been very helpful.