Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Oct 15, 2012

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In the aftermath of a murder trial involving an Illinois man found guilty of killing the mother of his two children, a child custody battle ensues. 

In July, 2012, George Kleopa was charged with first-degree murder of his live-in girlfriend of 14 years, Michele Peters. The couple had two young sons together who were put in custody of Kleopa’s relatives in California since their mother’s death in early 2012, according to Patch.com

Now, Michele Peters’ mother, the boys’ grandmother, is taking legal action to gain full custody of 18-month-old Alex and 7-year-old Georgie. Reports say that Catherine Peters will appear in Family Court in Orange County, California to present her case for child custody against Kleopa’s sister and brother-in-law, who currently have the children. 

Peters has had limited access to her grandchildren since just after her daughter’s funeral, when the two boys were taken to California from Illinois where the family had lived, according to Patch.com. She is now seeking either full custody, or at the least, visitation rights. 

Grandparents and Child Custody Rights

Grandparents do not automatically have custodial or visitation rights under the law; and laws regarding grandparent custody rights will vary by state. But in a Supreme Court decision in 2000, it was determined that in order for grandparents to surpass a child’s biological parents for visitation or custody rights, the parents have to be deemed unfit to care for the children. 

However, courts may side with grandparents in special circumstances—such as the death or incapacitation of the biological parents. Grandparents can petition the court to gain custody in these special circumstances, as Peters in currently doing. The burden of proof rests with the petitioner to prove that the children’s best interests will be better met if they are in the grandparent’s custody. 

Above all, a family court judge will look to the best interests of the children involved. Peters will have to show the judge that she is ultimately the best caretaker for her grandchildren. The outcome remains to be seen, but it will likely be a heated process as it often can be when children are involved; this case is especially sensitive given the unfortunate passing of the children’s biological mother. Family courts are highly committed to placing children where they will be most comfortable, so hopefully this case is no different.  

Read more about custody rights of grandparents in Grandparent Rights & Grandparent Visitation