Judge Ends 11-Year Custody Fight Bewteen Maternal, Paternal Grandparents
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ A judge has ended a bitter, 11-year custody fight between the two sets of grandparents of a girl orphaned as a toddler when her mother and father were killed in a plane crash.
The paternal and maternal grandparents ″do not like each other,″ the circuit judge said, and the struggle over the child has included adoption procedures, appeals, charges of mismanaging her estate and a kidnapping accusation.
Judge McFerrin Smith ruled Tuesday that Hope Thomas, now 12, should remain with her paternal grandparents, Peter and Alice Thomas. He denied a request by maternal grandparents Alva and Wanda Ramey to adopt the child, orphaned before she was 2.
Acknowledging the bitterness between the two families, the judge said they ″have shown a history of neither communicating nor cooperating concrning Hope.″
The Rameys, of Holly Hill, had accused Peter Thomas of improperly lending money from Hope’s trust fund to members of his family. Smith ruled, however, that Thomas made one court-authorized loan in May 1976 to his son.
Thomas was appointed Hope’s guardian in June 1974 by Circuit Judge Robert Durden. The Rameys didn’t protest because they were assured that they could spend time with her. They later alleged that Thomas was ″arbitrary and capricious″ in visitation rights and took the issue to court.
An unrelated couple sought to adopt Hope. The Rameys protested.
An investigation by the state Division of Family Services recommended against adoption, saying Hope needed a continuing, solid relationship with all of her grandparents. It recommended that custody be given to the Rameys.
Circuit Judge Warren Cobb agreed with the recommendation against adoption but awarded custody to Thomas.
The Rameys took Hope out of the state in September 1975. They were arrested and charged with kidnapping, and Hope was returned to her guardian in July 1977. The state attorney’s office then declined to prosecute.
Thomas was granted an adoption petition in 1977 by a judge who had no knowledge of past proceedings, according to court records.
The Rameys appealed, and the court ruled that Thomas’ failure to inform the court of past proceedings was ″tantamount to fraud.″ The adoption was voided and the case sent back to the circuit court.
The Rameys’ attorney, Daun Fowler, said she was ″bitterly disappointed″ with the ruling because the Rameys now have no visitation rights.
″They become strangers to the child at this point,″ she said. ″It’s almost as if death has taken her away forever.″
The Rameys and the Thomases declined to comment.
Ms. Fowler said no decision had been made on a possible appeal.