Stephen J. Buhler, Attorney at Law

Legislator eyes new law to protect children

The loss of a parent is a life changing moment in the lives of many people. This can happen when one parents gets full custody and shuts the other out ignoring the legal consequences. When a parent is killed in a violent crime the loss can be all the more profound especially if the alleged killer is the remaining parent. In these situations keeping the children with their remaining parent may not be in their best interest.

A Utah senator is working on a bill that will allow a judge to revoke the child custody rights of a parent suspected of murdering their spouse. The legislator has said the law will be similar to Powell's, which prevents suspects in spouse murder cases from gaining custody of their children. Powell, who was a suspect in his wife's death, killed his two children and himself. The senator started working on the law after being contacted by the family of an allegedly murdered scientist. The scientist's husband, who was arrested and charged in connection with her murder, had custody of his children after her death prompting his 19 year old son to fight for their removal. While the law is still in its early stages critics of the measure have already vocalized their concern.

The proposed law will have to be carefully crafted as it has the ability to affect on-going criminal cases and divest a parent of their children prior to them being charged with a crime. Prematurely removing a child from their home could significantly and negatively affect the surviving parent's relationship with their child as it gives the appearance of guilt even if the parent is later found to be innocent. The bill is still in the committee phase and will not be introduced until at least next February.

When acting in the best interest of the child courts and legislators may trample on the rights of parents. Such violations can seem minor when compared to the potential harm a child may face in uncertain situations.

Source: Deseret News "Proposed bill prompted by Powell case and S.L. homicide" Andrew Adams June 6, 2013

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