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Man Who Lost Court Fight Over Child’s Surname Shoots Boy, Himself

May 15, 1995

EASTON, Pa. (AP) _ An unwed father who lost a court battle to force the mother to give his 3-year-old son his last name fatally shot the boy and killed himself.

The bodies of Alan Gubernat and the boy, Scott, were found in Gubernat’s Williams Township home Sunday, state police Cpl. Steven Junkin said. Sunday, Mother’s Day, was three days after the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled against him.

Each had been shot once with a handgun and investigators said it was a murder-suicide. Authorities wouldn’t say when Gubernat, 33, was last seen alive or if he had left a suicide note.

James Richardson, Gubernat’s attorney, said he was stunned by the shootings.

``He seemed stable,″ he said. ``His words to me were he was `settling in here,′ meaning he had accepted the court’s ruling and would continue his situation with the decision mandated by the courts. ... It’s incredibly unbelievable.″

Scott, who was born out of wedlock, was raised by his mother, Karen Deremer of Washington Borough, N.J. Scott had his mother’s last name until September, when an appeals court upheld Gubernat’s demand for a change. The appeals court upheld a trial court’s finding that giving a child his last name is ``a right that the father has.″

On Thursday, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in favor of Deremer, saying the parent with custody of a child has the right to decide the surname. The court said instead of following tradition, New Jersey must adhere to ``society’s recognition of full equality for women.″

``It is the love of the parent, not the name of the parent, that binds parent and child,″ the unanimous opinion said.

The boy’s parents had never married. Gubernat initially doubted he was Scott’s father. When tests proved Gubernat’s paternity, he took an active role, court documents said.

Gubernat asked for the name change as part of his effort to get joint custody of the boy, saying Scott would then be assured ``he always has a father.″

Richardson said his client got joint legal custody _ an equal say in important decisions involving the boy’s upbringing _ and got to have the the boy every other weekend and visit him one evening a week.

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