While His Mom Advocated for the Keeping Children Safe From Family Violence Act … to Keep Him Safe
“Family court professionals did not act in time nor in the best interest of the child to keep him safe from a clearly dangerous parent.”
On Friday May 12, a 49-year-old Salt Lake City father, Parth Gandhi, killed his 16-year-old son and then took his own life, according to authorities. The father was in a protracted family court child custody battle with the son’s mother. The mother, Leah Moses, alleged that Parth was violent and abusive and she feared for her children’s safety.
She had asked a family court Commissioner to keep the child safely with her. But the father was granted full custody of the boy despite substantiated allegations of domestic abuse against him. Leah tried to warn them about his problematic behavior involving his extensive substance abuse, accusations of sexual abuse, and exposing the children to pornography, according to court documents.
“The Mother Was Viewed With Suspicion”
“Like thousands of other contested custody cases in family courts across the U.S., this protective mother in Utah had presented evidence to the court about the father’s abusive behaviors. She asked the court to keep her son safe by seeking full legal and physical custody to keep him in her care,” said Danielle Pollack, Policy Manager at the National Family Violence Law Center.
Instead, the mother was viewed with suspicion. In custody litigation, Parth had accused Leah of “parental alienation,” a commonly invoked and unfortunately effective legal tactic of accused abusers in family court. Studies have shown and the UN Human Rights Council is bringing attention to as an international problem.
“My Son’s Death Was Preventable”
“As often happens, family court professionals lack adequate training or clinical experience in domestic violence, child sexual abuse, and trauma, and can sometimes be easily misled by charismatic abusers. They are often unable to identify when a parent is a perpetrator. They have trouble understanding why a protective parent is trying to keep her kids safe once she leaves an abusive home, just as Leah had,” added Pollack.
Leah said: “My son Om’s death was preventable. The family court system professionals ignored my pleas for help to keep my son safe. My son’s father persuaded everyone I was the problem, when in fact I was just trying to protect my child. I never want this to happen to another family, to another child. If the courts would listen to and believe survivors, this nightmare could stop.”
The Utah boy, Om, who was court ordered into the custody of his abusive father, who killed him on Mother’s Day weekend.
“The Clinical Psychologist… Recognized Leah As a Victim of Abuse”
Domestic violence advocates do not recommend that victims participate in therapy or co-parenting classes with abusers, as the abuser is likely to continue their abuse through such programs. Despite that, Leah was court ordered to take a high-conflict parenting class with the children’s father. The clinical psychologist running the class identified Leah as a victim of abuse, and accordingly, decided to counsel her privately, but then Leah was again court ordered to family therapy with the abuser who she says had raped her repeatedly. Despite this, Parth maintained custody of Om.
Dr. Candice Smith, Layton Hospital Department Chair of Pediatrics and Member of Utah Medical Association Board of Delegates, is all too familiar with cases like this. “Pediatricians in the State of Utah are becoming more and more frustrated with our inability to keep children safe from maltreatment due to court ordered parenting time with an abuser.” According to Pollack, this sentiment is expressed by pediatricians around the country who see these cases and feel helpless to protect children from abuse in the face of court orders.
This Utah filicide follows on the heels of two recent notorious Utah family court cases one where an abusive father killed his wife, five children and mother-in-law after the mother, Tausha Haight, had filed for divorce and another where two siblings who had been sexually abused by their father barricaded themselves in their room to avoid the court order to be in their abusive father’s custody.
Late in 2022, Leah, Dr. Candice Smith, and Anne Blythe of BTR.ORG met with Utah Senator Todd Weiler to ask him to sponsor a state version of the federal Keeping Children Safe From Family Violence Act in Utah. He agreed to lead the effort. Senator Weiler said that passing this law would provide Utah with much needed federal funding to better educate court professionals, so they can better protect abused children in custody cases. It would also improve how courts handle custody cases with abuse allegations. The federal law is referred to as Kayden’s Law, named after another child who was murdered by an abusive father during his court ordered custody time in Pennsylvania.
Leah also brought the Keeping Children Safe From Family Violence Act to the attention of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, where she is a board member. She is hoping the law will gain traction and be passed in Utah during the upcoming legislative session. In February of this year, she took part in a demonstration at the Utah State Capitol with Tina Swithin of One Mom’s Battle and Anne Blythe of BTR.ORG calling for the adoption of the protective law, holding a sign which read “Children’s Rights are Human Rights.”
Leah demonstrating with other advocates, including family members of Ty and Brynlee Larson, One Mom’s Battle, BTR.ORG, and the National Safe Parents Organization, at the Utah State Capitol on February 17, 2023, calling for Utah to adopt the Keeping Children Safe From Family Violence Act, also known as “Kayden’s Law.”
Twelve weeks later Leah’s son was murdered.
“Had the court professionals my son was subjected to been educated about abuse and family violence dynamics and acted in his best interest, Om would likely still be alive,” Leah said.
Leah and Om sharing a mother-son moment in New York City in 2022.
“Court Professionals Did Not Act in Time”
After battling for her child’s safety for over 14 years, presenting evidence in court and enduring legal and other abuse by Parth, Leah saw a glimmer of hope when a custody evaluator finally made a recommendation to give Leah full custody of Om. Leah said, “When I received that custody recommendation I was relieved and hopeful that the court would act quickly to ensure that Om could escape the violence he’d been subjected to at the hands of his father. Would he finally be allowed to live in a safe and healthy environment? Instead, three and half weeks later, he was murdered.”
Tragically, court professionals did not act in time.
Instead of celebrating his upcoming seventeenth birthday, young Om, a bright student and talented musician, who was loving and protective to his mother and sister, will be laid to rest in the coming days.
Leah with Om and her daughter on the day she graduated. Leah began divorce proceedings in 2009, but due to Parth’s legal abuse, the divorce wasn’t final until 2014. Three years later in May 2017, Leah graduated as a midwife with a Master of Science from Columbia University in the City of New York.
*Court professionals who were tasked with evaluating and keeping the boy safe from abuse have not responded to our requests for comment.
We are a national coalition of more than 100,000 survivor parents and concerned citizens in the United States advocating for evidence-based policies which put child safety and risks at the forefront of child custody decisions. We believe it is a child’s human right to live free from abuse and that child safety, which is implicit in the law, must be made the top priority in practice, in all private custody decision-making.
We at NSPO work with similar national groups across the globe, all contending with similar problems to those we see in the U.S.: Court’s resistance to taking safety risks and abuse to a child seriously in the context of child access decisions.
If you are interested in helping to pass the Keeping Children Safe from Family Violence Act in your state, contact Danielle Pollack at firstname.lastname@example.org