We support what is being called "Aubree Jo's law," a bill from state Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, which would adjust child custody laws to also specifically consider the best interest of the child.
Wilcox's bill, HB88, adds one line to the custody amendment. That line reads, "In determining any form of custody, the court may not discriminate against a parent due to gender, race, religious preference, or age, but shall consider the best interests of the child."
The genesis for HB88, and why it is called "Aubree Jo's law," refers to the tragic death of Top of Utah toddler, Aubree Jo Anderson, who died last year, on Feb. 23, as a result of injuries in a traffic accident in which her mother, Brandi Stilke, survived but suffered head injuries.
Stilke later pleaded guilty to negligent operation of a vehicle to cause the death of her daughter. She is serving a term of up to 15 years in the Utah State Prison.
Tests showed that Stilke had drugs in her system. Aubree Jo's paternal grandparents, Dale and Julie Anderson, of North Ogden, believe their granddaughter's death could have been prevented had their son, Jared Anderson, been granted full custody of the youngster. Despite providing evidence of what they alleged was consistent drug use by Aubree's mother, as well as an alleged history of prior vehicle accidents, Jared Anderson was unable to get full custody of his daughter.
According to Julie Anderson, a case worker for Division of Family Services, took a look at a file that the grandparents had provided, slid it back to them, "and told us she couldn't help us unless she (the mother) was in the hospital or in a coffin."
If that is indeed the case in most incidents, it's ridiculous, and Wilcox's bill must be passed and signed as soon as possible. In all cases of custody, the safety and best interests of the child must be the main factor. If it can be shown that a father or mother, or both, cannot safely care for their offspring, loving responsible adults, fathers, mothers, grandparents, other family members, guardians, must be given primary consideration.
Aubree Jo's death appears to have been an event that could have been prevented. We need to use the example of her sad end as a catalyst to making sure other defenseless youngsters don't share her fate.