Last week Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert signed a bill into law that is designed to protect children in a very specifically vulnerable situation: when one parent is the primary suspect in the death of the other. Following the events of one Utah family’s struggles in a similar situation, this Deseret News article online speaks to the new legal tools available to Salt Lake City family lawyers representing parties where children are involved in cases with parent suspects.
One young man, Pelle Wall, spent an inheritance in an attempt to navigate uncertain and shifting legal waters when his family fell into the situation; his siblings were, for months, in the custody of their father, the primary suspect in their mother’s death case. The father was ultimately arrested and charged with criminal homicide in his ex-wife’s death, and the children are in custody of a family friend in California, having finally found safety with the help of the Salt Lake City family lawyers Wall hired with the money left to him by his murdered mother. Wall hopes that this new law will make it easier for families to be afforded such protection, stating, “I think it has really tremendous potential to save a lot of lives.”
And it probably does. SB 173 is the new law that allows individuals to petition a juvenile district court judge to have children removed temporarily from the primary suspect’s home until the criminal process is complete. Similar legislation was passed in the state of Washington last year after Josh Powell, maintaining partial custody of his two children despite being suspected of killing his wife, murdered his children and then killed himself when the kids were dropped off at his home for a supervised visit. Salt Lake City family lawyers like Cory D. Hundley believe that SB 173 will make it easier for children to be removed from the suspected parent’s home.
The bill’s House sponsor, Re. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, notes that the law is designed in the interest of children, an especially vulnerable population, but acknowledges that it walks a narrow line between children’s rights and parental rights. And while most advocates would err on the side of protecting children from bodily harm, especially after cases with incidents like the Washington Powell horrors, there are some that caution for SB 173’s power to be used judiciously.
“Foster care is, by nature, exceptionally disruptive for children,” one children’s rights advocate vocalized. “And while we want to protect the children from harm, we have to be careful not to use the new law indiscriminately. These kids’ worlds are already turned upside down, and maintaining some continuity is crucial for their stability. Psychological harm is real, too.”
No one is denying the emotional turmoil that can accompany home disruption, but Salt Lake City family lawyers like Hundley believe that especially in cases where the risk of harm is reasonable, SB 173 will help expedite the process of removing kids from potential imminent peril.