Good4Utah looks at custodial rights in Utah after 15-month-old is reunited with mother

By Kimberly Nelson

Published 05/08 2014 10:24PM

Updated 05/09 2014 12:56PM

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Utah) - An update on the story of the missing 15-month-old girl returned to her mother after nearly 3 months. Wednesday we brought you the reunion between mother and child and spoke with Danielle Larsen about her struggle in getting baby Sophea back. Many of you have asked, and so GOOD4UTAH is taking a closer look at custodial rights here in the state of Utah.


Danielle Larsen said it herself; the biological father took 15-month-old Sophea and because she didn't ever file for custody it took her months to legally get little Sophea back.


Nearly 60 officers from at least 4 different agencies were looking for Sophea Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. After much media attention, Jamie Webb, the child's biological father finally turned the girl over.


But Sophea was taken from her mother months before, after an alleged domestic dispute so why hadn't police or the courts stepped in earlier?


"Because I never filed for custody, that’s what it boils down to,” explained Larsen.


Larsen believed that because Webb was never listed as Sophea's father on the birth certificate she didn't need to file for custody.


Larsen said, "But apparently her birth certificate doesn't matter if I allow someone to act as the father it doesn't matter."


Family law attorney David Pace says that's pretty much right. Because Larsen and Webb were never married, their parental rights needed to be legally defined in a court of law.


"Society and the law still offer a great deal of protections for being married in that both parents have defined custody rights. If you're not married when you have a child you don't have those rights, you don't have those rights enforceable by a court, until you actually go to court and get a court order awarding you those rights,” explained Pace.


However, Pace says, the courts and police will step in if they feel the child may be in danger.


Once a protective order was issued in this case, Pace believes, that's how Larsen obtained custody in the courts, and it was after that that the  rid of assistance was ordered which allowed police to go search for Sophea.


Pace told ABC 4 Utah, "So the point is you don't get an order just from one side unless there's an emergency situation and with respect to custody it's going to turn on the safety and wellbeing of the child."

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