Utah lawmakers pass ‘Om’s Law,’ focused on child safety in custody decisions

Mar 1, 2024, 5:26 PM | Updated: Mar 5, 2024, 12:43 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – With a unanimous vote and a standing ovation for the mother of a 16-year-old boy killed by his father last year, the Utah Senate approved a bill Friday to reform the state’s family court system.

Senators applauded a smiling Leah Moses, who’d spoken with most of them to advocate for the changes she says could have helped prevent the death of her son, Om Gandhi.

“It’s a tragic story in our family, but it won’t just be a story. Now, it can really be a legacy, and I think that that’s something that I wanted so much to give to Om,” Moses told KSL.

The measure known as “Om’s Law” directs judges to prioritize child safety in custody decisions and requires them to consider evidence of domestic violence raised in those cases. The bill, HB272, is modeled on a federal law and a similar move in Colorado last year. It now goes to the governor’s desk for approval.

The development follows reporting by the KSL Investigators on how Utah judges weigh evidence of abuse by one parent versus allegations of alienation by the other.

Mothers who reported abuse say Utah’s family court system is failing their kids 

Several mothers told KSL that police and Utah’s child welfare agency documented physical child abuse by their ex-husbands, but the women faced losing custody after the fathers responded with allegations of parental alienation.

Experts in child abuse and family law say parental alienation – the concept that one parent is trying to turn the child against the other – can cloud custody decisions in cases involving allegations of violence, placing children in potentially dangerous situations. The disputed theory is commonly raised in these circumstances and can overlook other reasons why a child may reject a parent, such as neglect or abuse.

“I think Utah’s really become a model here today to show that this can be done, the work that everybody put into this brought this about today,” said Shaynie Hunter, whose experience fighting to keep custody of her children inspired one of the bill’s sponsors to push for reform.

The proposal would boost training for judges and court commissioners. It would prohibit judges from cutting off a child’s contact with the parent they prefer while participating in programs to repair their relationship with the other parent.

Under the measure, courts would only accept expert testimony about domestic violence in these cases from those with “demonstrated expertise and adequate experience in working with victims of domestic violence.”

Opponents of the bill have said it does not give enough weight to allegations of psychological harm, compared to physical or sexual abuse. They have raised concerns that it could hold courts back from responding appropriately to what they say are confirmed cases of parental alienation.

Om Gandhi, who loved to play the saxophone and planned to be a music teacher, was at the center of a child custody battle that had dragged on for more than a decade when he was shot and killed by his father Parth Gandhi, who police said then took his own life.

Moses told lawmakers in February that she repeatedly raised concerns about Om’s and his sister’s safety, but her former husband was granted full custody of the boy and accused her of alienating the children from him. Shortly before the boy’s death, a court-ordered custody evaluation recommended his mother get full custody.

“He can’t be here,” Moses said of her son. “But I feel like his presence will hopefully be felt in every family court decision here on out.”

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

You’ve likely noticed a growing number of businesses that have gone completely cashless. When it ...

Matt Gephardt

Businesses are passing their credit card fees onto customers, what can you do?

You’ve likely noticed a growing number of businesses that have gone completely cashless. When it comes time to pay, it’ll involve a tap, swipe or maybe a click on an app. It's a phenomenon that is contributing to the price we pay for goods and services.

5 hours ago

Summer travel is about to take flight. That means a whole lot of points and miles being used and ea...

Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage

Thieves are going after your frequent flier mileage: how you can safeguard those miles and points

Summer travel is about to take flight. That means a whole lot of points and miles being used and earned, and cybercriminals know it.

1 day ago

Peggy Lundberg tells KSL’s Matt Gephardt about her experience of having her travel credit stolen....

Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage

Thieves stealing airline travel credits: How you can protect them

If someone steals your credit card or hacks into your bank account, federal law says you should get most of your money back. But what protections do you have when someone steals your airline travel credits?

2 days ago

Matt Gephardt looking over the CarShield documents for Scott Dumas....

Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage, KSL TV

West Haven man says extended auto warranty refuses to cover costly engine repair

Many drivers buy an extended auto warranty to help keep their car on the road, but when the extended warranty a West Haven man bought refused to cover replacing an engine, he decided to Get Gephardt.

6 days ago

Follow @KSL5TVLike us on Facebook...

Matt Gephardt

How hoarding documents puts you at risk for identity theft

Someone who knows what they’re doing can do a whole lot of damage with the scraps of paper you’ve stashed in filing cabinets, drawers and other various hiding places around your house.

7 days ago

IOC excludes Russian and Belarusian athletes from Paris 2024 Olympics opening ceremonies....

Matt Gephardt

Get Gephardt: How to stay ahead of the 2024 Olympics scams

As Utahns know firsthand from 2002, the Olympics can be a bit chaotic with millions in an unfamiliar place. The situation is sure to entice opportunistic con men with Olympic scams.

8 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

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.

Utah lawmakers pass ‘Om’s Law,’ focused on child safety in custody decisions