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Baby’s death ends complex, difficult custody dispute

When most people in Tennessee hear the phrase “child custody fight,” they assume that the dispute is limited to the child’s parents, but some custody disputes may involve other parties, including grandparents, the state of Tennessee and one or both natural parents. A year-long child custody fight involving all of these parties and others tragically ended on New Year’s Eve when the subject of the dispute, a one-year-old girl, died in her sleep.

The girl was born in late 2014 to two teenage parents. The father, who was 15 at the time of the birth, and his mother (the baby’s grandmother) asked to be awarded custody of the baby. The girl’s fourteen-year-old mother, who was living in a juvenile detention facility during the pregnancy, at first agreed to this request, but she subsequently changed her mind and allowed a foster couple to take the child from the hospital.

The father’s mother then launched a campaign to establish her son’s parental right to custody of the baby. These plans were opposed by the foster couple, who intended to adopt the baby. Then, the birth mother had another change of heart and asked the juvenile court to restore physical custody to her. This request was granted, but the child was removed from the young mother’s custody after incidents of child abuse were brought to the attention of the Tennessee department of Children’s Services. The baby, who was being treated for a heart defect, died in her sleep on December 31, 2015, but the dispute is not over. The parents and grandparents are now arguing about funeral arrangements.

Most child custody cases are neither as complex nor as tragic as this case, but virtually all child custody disputes involve intense and painful emotions. Anyone involved in such a case as a parent, grandparent or potential foster parent may wish to consult an experienced family lawyer for advice on legal strategies and an estimate of the chances of obtaining a favorable outcome.