Daddy gets his girl. WINK News investigation gets results in paternity battle for unwed father

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Baby “Carnisha Gardner”

This is what 32-year-old Kerry Elneus has been fighting for every single day since Karri was born—bringing his baby girl home. This, as he mourns the loss of her mother and the love of his life, his fiancée Carnisha. She died of COVID-19 complications shortly after giving birth.

“I feel like she’s finally can rest in peace,” says Elneus. “You know, even though things aren’t 100%, this was what the whole battle was about in the first place, getting Karri home.”

Elneus still does not have legal custody of Karri because in Florida, unwed fathers don’t have automatic custody rights. That’s why his name is still not on her birth certificate.

MORE: Daddy’s little girl? WINK News investigates paternity rights for unwed fathers in Florida

“The judge has to sign the acknowledgment of paternity, which gives him all those rights agreed to by the parties. I don’t know why the judge hasn’t signed it yet. But that’s the only delay,” says Attorney Tyrone Watson.

Watson says this omission isn’t just a technicality, and until it’s added, Elneus legally can’t make health care decisions for her.

“I can’t even call Medicaid without me being their guardian, even with their mom passing. I just have to wait,” says Elneus. “Right now, I’m just their big buddy or their friend or something like that.”

The hospital and the Department of Children and Families still allowed Elneus to take his baby home, because she was ready to be discharged from the NICU and the DNA test proves he’s the father.

“I think we all agree that it’s in the best interest of the children to be with a loving parent, like Kerry,” says Watson. “Kerry is a nurse. He’s responsible. He’s been with the mother; he loves his children. He’s caring for his other child who suffers from autism, and he’s doing a great job at it. I mean, to me, he’s the poster child of fathers, especially in a society now where there’s a stigma that young black men are not good fathers.”

While Elneus waits for the legal fight to finally come to an end, he’s adjusting to life as a single father of two.

“She is such a good baby,” says Elneus. “It’s like Carnisha knew what she was doing. Even though she knew I’d be by myself, she said ‘I’m going to make it, you know, a little easy by giving you the perfect just little angel.’ She’s been so good.”

This battle hasn’t been cheap—$7,000 in legal fees alone. We reached out to the judge, and he won’t comment on active cases.

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