Fourteen-year-old Hal Warden was granted a divorce from his...

GALLATIN, Tenn. -- Fourteen-year-old Hal Warden was granted a divorce from his 17-year-old wife but lost a bitter custody fight for their baby daughter and must pay $30 a week in child support.

'My son is destroyed. He collapsed in the doorway as he came in from school when I told him the news,' said Herbert Warden, his father.


He said his son, a sophomore at Greenbrier High School, cannot afford the child support payments ordered by Sumner County Juvenile Court Judge Tom E. Gray in a 12-page decision released Thursday.

'State law prohibits Hal from taking a job at so young an age, but the court has ordered him to pay $30 each week,' the elder Warden said.

Gray awarded custody of 16-month-old Heather Warden to the boy's former wife, Wendy Cappell Warden, 17, of Chugiak, Alaska.

The teenage father can have the toddler two months a year, the judge said.

'My mind is completely blank,' Hal said. 'It seems there is just no justice in this world, because I have done absolutely nothing to lose my baby girl.'

The elder Warden criticized the judge's decision.

'This child -- if it lives -- will certainly suffer by this decision,' he said.


He said the judge made his decision based on tradition.

'The judge here simply did not consider the merit of the case,' he said. 'He would not separate the tradition of always granting custody to the mother from today's reality that I have a responsible son.'

The young father went to court in June seeking a divorce and custody of his daughter. Last month, he missed the first day of 10th grade classes to attend the custody hearing.

During 13 hours of testimony, the parents leveled charges at each other. The boy testified that his estranged wife's mother let the baby chew on her big toe and his former wife said he had behaved 'like a 10-year-old' while they were married.

Hal, who became the youngest father ever at Baptist Hospital, and Wendy were married Jan. 20, 1984, after they learned she was pregnant.

The baby was born four months later. The family lived in a house trailer behind the Springfield home of Hal's parents until Jan. 3, when Wendy moved out, taking Heather with her.

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