Orphaned at 3 months old, the daughter of Kasandra Perkins and Jovan Belcher, is being cared for — for now — by her paternal grandmother.
But where little Zoey will be raised, and by whom, ultimately may be decided by a Jackson County judge.
According to area lawyers who practice family law, if Zoey’s parents did not leave a will that designated a custodian, there are many possible outcomes when a child loses both parents, such as happened Saturday when Belcher shot Perkins to death and then took his own life.
Similar situations have resulted in hotly-contested custody disputes, said Jill Katz, an attorney who practices family law.
“You will often have families fighting over who is best-equipped to care for the child,” she said.
There can be a lot of animosity between families in cases where one parent killed the other, said Lori Ross, president of the Midwest Foster Care and Adoption Association.
“And everybody feels they have a right to the baby,” Ross said.
Both sides have the same legal rights, regardless of who committed the crime, she said.
“It’s not a given either way,” she said.
In many cases where no family is available immediately to care for a child, the Missouri Children’s Division places the child in foster care. But when surviving family can care for the child and hire an attorney, the Children’s Division may never get involved, Katz said.
Usually, a party seeking custody will file a guardianship petition in court that includes a list of siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents. Those relatives then are notified of the petition.
If more than one party files a petition to seek guardianship, a judge will decide, she said.
In some cases, the families could cooperate and agree to share custody.
Beyond the immediate establishment of guardianship, Katz said, a petition seeking to adopt Zoey also could be filed.
And whoever receives temporary guardianship isn’t necessarily the person who will adopt the child, she said.
“It doesn’t have to be a family member,” she said “Anyone could file to adopt that baby.”
And like with guardianship, if there are competing adoption petitions, a judge will decide the issue, Katz said.
Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn said Sunday that he and other players planned to set up a benefit fund for Zoey. Details about the fund had not yet been established Tuesday.