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Utah House OKs bill that would stop gender bias in custody cases

Published February 14, 2012 2:10 pm

Legislature • Measure would prevent mothers from getting preferential treatment.
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The Utah House approved a bill Tuesday that would prevent mothers from getting preferential treatment during child-custody disputes.

Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, sponsored HB88 after custody of 3-year-old Aubree Jo Anderson was awarded to her mother despite a history of drug abuse. The girl was killed when the mother blacked out while driving and slammed into a brick wall at 48 mph.

The mother was later found to have marijuana and OxyContin in her system and eventually pleaded guilty to a second-degree felony.

The girl's paternal grandparents, Dale and Julie Anderson, provided emotional testimony at the hearing, arguing their son was not given custody because the court favors mothers in such disputes.

"We found this is not an isolated case," Wilcox said. "It happens over and over again in a system that has an unwritten bias based on gender."

The bill states that courts cannot discriminate against a party in a custody dispute based on gender, race, ethnicity or religion.

"Too often we make decisions in custody cases based on things other than the best interest of the child," Wilcox said. "When we base it on things like gender or race or color or national origin or religious preference … we're making a mistake. We miss something."

The bill passed 72-0 and goes to the Senate.

gehrke@sltrib.com