Julie and Dale Anderson helped their son fight for nearly a year to gain custody of his daughter, Aubree Jo, from a mother who they said had a history of drug addiction and crime.
At each turn, authorities refused to intervene. At one point being told that "Unless Aubree Jo was in a hospital or a coffin there was nothing they could do to help us."
On Feb. 24, 2011, that’s where the 3-year-old girl ended up, after her mother blacked out while driving and slammed into a brick wall at 48 mph, fatally injuring the young girl. The mother was later found to have marijuana and OxyContin in her system and eventually pleaded guilty to a 2nd degree felony.
"I wish I could explain the pain and agony I felt in walking into a hospital room and seeing her broken and still body lying into that hospital bed," Julie Anderson told a legislative committee Tuesday.
The Andersons believe the court’s disregarded their efforts because the default assumption in custody cases is that a child is better off with his or her mother.
But that is not always the case, they say, and are pushing for legislation they hope puts a mother and father on equal footing and forces courts to decide disputes based on the best interest of the child.
"This law is our effort to help other children who may be in the same situation," Julie Anderson said. "Custody should be awarded not on the antiquated notion that the mother is the best caretaker."
HB888, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, states that, in determining custody of a child, courts "may not discriminate against a parent due to gender, race, religious preference, or age."
"When the decision is based on something such as gender, which is far too often the case," Wilcox said, "we are doing a disservice to the children of that family but to society as a whole."
The bill got the unanimous backing of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee and now heads to the full House for consideration.
Dale Anderson said the family is trying to get "Aubree Jo’s Law" passed to honor the memory of the young girl, and trying to help make sure other families don’t have a similar experience.
Since they started their push for legislation, Dale Anderson said he has received numerous calls from other fathers caught in custody fights.
"It will give other people hope," he said.
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