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Visitation Order Raises Questions About Child's Safety

The Supreme Court has long held that the Constitution of the United States of America protects a parent's fundamental right to privacy; under this privacy right is the right to raise children. Fundamental rights are not exclusive and the visitation rights to a child may be restricted or terminated as long as due process is followed.

Allowing visitation with children is favored over the denial to do so, but a visitation dispute in Georgia has a court deciding whether or not a father's visitation with his child is appropriate after he was found mentally incompetent to stand trial for first-degree child cruelty.

Issues concerning the child's safety began in March of 2007 when the parents brought the child to Scottish Rite Children's Hospital when the 3-month old boy was having trouble breathing. Suspicions arose and the hospital chose to put the child under hidden surveillance. The security guard in charge of watching the child through the camera, observed the father enter the room and cover the child's mouth and nose, suffocating him. The security guard was able to reach the child in time and the father was arrested.

The child lived with the mother for a period of time before the court made the determination that she was unfit to parent and awarded custody to the father's parents. In a complicated turn of events, the father was not placed in a hospital for treatment as are most incompetent defendants charged with violent crimes. Psychiatrists determined that the father's chance of ever being able to stand trial was next to nothing. The father's case was placed on an administrative dead docket. The status of his case provided for his release on $25,000 bond to receive outpatient treatment. The order allowed the father supervised visitation of his son two hours per week.

The mother objected to the arrangement and an emergency hearing was called after prosecutors raised several concerns about the child's safety. A major objection to the arrangement was that the father's own parents were charged with the supervisory duties, and prosecutors offered evidence that the father was already living with his parents.

The judge overseeing the hearing questions whether or not the judge that issued the release and visitation order was aware of the child-cruelty case. "I just want to make sure we don't ever get in a situation where this child can be harmed by his father," she said. "I just want to make doubly clear that the child is safe."

Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution "

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