After her son was killed by his father, Utah mom urges family court reform
Feb 1, 2024, 8:52 PM | Updated: Feb 2, 2024, 9:13 am
SALT LAKE CITY – Leah Moses remembers her son as a child in harmony with the world around him. Calm and wise beyond his years, Om Gandhi loved to play saxophone and constantly looked out for his mom and sister, she said.
“He really was peaceful from the very beginning,” Moses said.
The boy and his sister were at the center of a child custody battle that had dragged on for more than a decade before Om, 16, was killed last year by his father Parth Gandhi. Salt Lake City police said Parth Gandhi then took his own life.
Speaking publicly about her son’s death for the first time, Moses told KSL she hopes the tragedy will inspire lawmakers to support reform to Utah’s family court system. Her former husband was granted full custody of the boy about a year before his death, and Moses believes courts need to do more to prioritize child safety in custody decisions.
“It needs to change now,” Moses said. “There are kids who will today, tonight, tomorrow, this weekend, be abused. They’re in situations where they can’t get out.”
She’s one of several Utah parents telling the KSL Investigators about their concerns that allegations of parental alienation – the concept that one parent is trying to turn the child against the other – are clouding custody decisions in cases involving allegations of violence, potentially placing children in dangerous situations.
“I don’t think that anyone ever believed that would be this bad, even though this happens across the country,” Moses said.
She’s urging Utah lawmakers to support a pending bill seeking to boost training for judges and codify that they must consider evidence of domestic violence in custody decisions, among other changes.
Opponents of the proposal say it’s an overcorrection that could keep out important evidence from these cases. Critics include a family law attorney who represented Om’s father.
Lawyer Scott Wiser wrote to lawmakers on a judiciary panel expected to debate the bill, asking them to vote against it. Wiser said courts already have the tools they need to vet allegations of domestic violence.
“These are not black and white cases,” Wiser wrote. “And to say our Utah judges and commissioners would knowingly place a child in a dangerous situation is an insult to their intelligence.”
“Mistakes will, of course, happen,” he conceded, “but that is why we have appellate courts and existing laws allowing parents to seek modification, even on an emergency basis, if circumstances change and new evidence comes to light.”
Wiser couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
Bill sponsor Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, says the proposed changes would help ensure Utah’s courts are adhering to best practices and recognizing broadly accepted science about child wellbeing.
“I’ve had a lot of constituents reach out to me and I am concerned enough that I think we should take a hard look,” he recently told KSL.
Last year, before her son’s death, Moses joined others at the state Capitol and advocated for similar changes. This time, the measure is being called “Om’s Law.”
“His name means peace,” Moses said. “And that’s really what this is after, to try to bring more peace to families, and especially to children.”
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