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Death of mother and father leave child's custody in limbo

Most people here in Texas probably associate child custody battles with divorce, but many of those same people would be surprised to find out that some cases actually arise from the sudden deaths of a child's parents who may not have taken the appropriate estate planning measures necessary to award custody to a living family member. Voids such as this can create complicated custody battles that leave children in guardianship limbo.

Such is the case for one 9-month-old girl who has two relatives currently debating who should have custody of the child. Both her mother's cousin and her paternal grandmother are requesting custody of the girl. Although both women agree that they would be willing to share custody, the more than 1,700 mile separation of residencies is creating further complications.

Complications first began late last year when the girl's father, Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend (the girl's mother) before killing himself. Because no guardianship had been established for the girl upon the parent's deaths, it was unclear who was legally allowed custody of the child. Since the shooting, the 9-month-old has been living with her mother's cousin here in Texas and has been visited by her paternal grandmother on several occasions. But now both women want the family courts to decide the arrangements of the child's custody.

While both women are comfortable sharing custody, it was recently pointed out at a hearing that children at younger ages need a primary caregiver to build a strong attachment to in order to develop properly. Sharing custody over such extreme distances would create instability, one expert pointed out. While the grandmother admits that she thinks the mother's cousin would be an excellent caregiver, she feels that it would be in the best interest of the child that she live with her in New York where she will have close access to other relatives as well.  Ultimately though it will be for the courts to decide what is in the best interest of the child in this custody battle.

Source: ESPN NFL, "Belcher's relatives seek child custody," The Associated Press, June 11, 2013

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