Mothers and teens urge Utah lawmakers to pass family court reform

Feb 8, 2024, 6:19 PM | Updated: 6:20 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – Leah Moses told lawmakers Thursday about the years of violence and control she said she and her children endured at the hand of her ex-husband.

Moses fought to protect her kids throughout a lengthy custody case, she said. But her 16-year-old son, Om Gandhi, was shot and killed by his father in May during court-ordered parent time.

“Having custody does not mean that children are safe if you must share it with a predator and send them to face him alone,” Moses said.

Moses joined other parents and teenagers in pleading with members of a legislative panel to approve a bill stipulating that kids’ safety is the main priority in child custody decisions.

The House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to advance the proposal known as “Om’s Law,” sending it to the full House.

“Some of these changes may make it a little bit more difficult for divorce attorneys and some parents to accomplish their goals,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Paul Cutler, R-Centerville. “But I believe that taking extra steps to recognize and prevent harm are worth that price.”

Proponents of the bill say it would ensure that allegations of physical and sexual abuse are thoroughly vetted in civil child custody cases. Critics say courts already do so.

Thursday’s debate follows a KSL investigation examining the experience of mothers who reported to police and Utah’s Division of Child and Family Services that their ex-husbands physically abused their kids. The women were later accused of harming the children by alienating them from their fathers.

Experts say allegations of alienation can outweigh claims of child abuse in custody decisions, placing children in potentially dangerous situations.

An analysis funded by the U.S. Department of Justice reviewed ten years of family court cases. It determined that when mothers raise allegations of abuse, their odds of losing custody nearly double, from 26% when fathers don’t claim alienation up to 50% when they do.

On Thursday, supporters cried quietly as they listened to parents and teenagers recount how evidence of abuse did not stop courts from ordering kids into the custody of a dangerous parent.

“The court has failed to protect me and my siblings from my father’s abuse,” said Trey Hunter, who previously spoke with KSL about his experience in the family court system.

Without the measure, his mother, Shaynie Hunter, said, “More children will be abused, more children will be hurt, more children will die.”

The wide-ranging proposal requires courts to consider evidence of abuse in child custody decisions and explore more training in domestic violence for judges and court commissioners, who can make orders in divorce and child custody cases.

Leah Moses hugs a supporter after a legislative panel advanced a reform bill focused on Utah’s family court system.

Leah Moses hugs a supporter after a legislative panel advanced a reform bill focused on Utah’s family court system. (KSL TV)

The measure would also require that experts testifying about domestic violence in these cases have expertise in the subject. Additionally, it would limit the use of reunification therapy for children and an estranged parent, prohibiting treatment that cuts off a child’s contact with the parent they prefer.

Some opponents spoke against the bill Thursday, citing personal experience with child custody cases that they said involved false claims of abuse.

Other critics, including a Utah family law attorney and reunification therapist, have written to lawmakers on the panel, saying the measure goes too far. They believe it could exclude important evidence from custody cases and say existing guidelines for family therapy already address issues of child safety.

Testimony at the state Capitol, however, overwhelmingly supported reform.

Pediatrician Kristine Campbell said the move aligns with Utah’s commitment to children. She told the panel that she regularly sees children who are either physically or psychologically harmed “as a result of poorly decided or inappropriately executed custody arrangements.”

“I see children every week in my clinic, in the E.D., who are caught up in truly nightmarish custody battles,” Campbell said.

The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition also supports the move.

“This is the No. 1 issue I hear from survivors about,” said Erin Jemison, the coalition’s director of public policy.

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, told colleagues on the panel that Om Gandhi’s father, Parth Gandhi, lived on the same street as King and just a few houses down. King called the boy’s death an outlier but said change is needed.

“We’re moving in the right direction on this,” King said.

Rep. Tyler Clancy, R-Provo, addressed Om’s mother directly during the hearing, telling her, “You did everything right, and the system failed you, so we’re going to try and fix that.”

“Putting child safety first is a no-brainer,” he continued.

Moses fought tears after the hearing as she talked about her late son and the bill named for him.

“I’m just so happy we moved the needle. It’s really moved, and it’s moved in the direction of kids,” Moses said. “That’s the most important thing to me.”

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you. 


KSL 5 TV Live

KSL Investigates

Homeowner Mark Shea tells KSL’s Matt Gephardt he paid someone to build a deck who abandoned the j...

Matt Gephardt

Get Gephardt: Homeowners ask why authorities can’t shut down an unlicensed contractor

Two Salt Lake County homeowners hired and paid someone to build decks for their homes but say he left the jobs unfinished. Turns out, he’s been cited by the state for not having a contractor’s license before.

18 hours ago

Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, and Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, react to a reporter’s qu...

Daniella Rivera and Annie Knox, KSL TV

‘More secrecy’: Utah lawmakers advance bills targeting government transparency

Several bills would chip away at government transparency in Utah, including one proposal that’s a direct response to KSL’s fight for public records. A First Amendment attorney says he’s alarmed.

21 hours ago

Matt Gephardt, journalists, looks as paper with a woman...

Matt Gephardt and Cimaron Neugebauer

Get Gephardt: Ticketmaster seizes back purchased seats

Imagine buying tickets to a show, then having the seller refuse to give them to you. That’s what happened to a Utah woman, when she got a refund she didn’t ask for.

2 days ago

Sen. Curt Bramble and members of a Senate committee talk about a bill designed to keep elected offi...

Daniella Rivera and Annie Knox

Should you get to see elected officials’ calendars? These Utah lawmakers say no

The KSL Investigators are days away from going to court to argue for your right to see the Utah Attorney General's work calendar. As we fight for transparency, lawmakers are stepping in to make it so the public doesn't get to see this record of how officials spend their time.

3 days ago

Penny Belgard looks at a photobook with pictures of her son Cody, who was killed by Salt Lake City ...

Daniella Rivera and Annie Knox, KSL TV

Cases on the clock: KSL Investigates lengthy delays in SL County’s police use of force decisions

Months and years tick by as Salt Lake County’s top prosecutor weighs whether he’ll clear or charge officers for using force. The KSL Investigators explore the cost of that wait for officers, families, and public safety.

4 days ago

Pig-butchering is a devastating combination of romance and crypto scams, and it’s taking Utahns f...

Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage, KSL TV

Unmasking the fast-moving pig-butchering scam hitting Utah

Pig-butchering is a devastating combination of romance and crypto scams, and it’s taking Utahns for all their worth.

7 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Mothers and teens urge Utah lawmakers to pass family court reform