Fort Worth custody case over Kansas City Chiefs player's daughter dismissed

Posted Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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The fate of the infant daughter of pro football player Jovan Belcher, who in December killed his girlfriend before turning the gun on himself at the Kansas City Chiefs' team facility, will not be decided in a Fort Worth courtroom.

A custody case involving 4-month-old Zoey Belcher was dismissed in 324th District Court. Judge Jerome Hennigan determined that the Texas court was not the proper venue for the case, which potentially involves millions of dollars from the National Football League player's estate.

Grandparents from both sides of the family reportedly are no longer talking to each other. The child's maternal grandmother, Rebecca Gonzalez, had filed a lawsuit requesting permanent custody of the child in a Fort Worth court, but the child's paternal grandmother, Cheryl Shepherd, who is from West Babylon, N.Y., had filed a similar action seeking permanent custody in Missouri.

A hearing had been scheduled for Tuesday morning in Tarrant County family court. But Hennigan signed a dismissal order Thursday after determining that under family law the child's home state is Missouri, not Texas. Judges in both states held a conference call and mutually determined Missouri was the child's home state, according to a report from The Associated Press.

The decision means that the child's future will be determined in a Missouri courtroom going forward.

On Dec. 1, Jovan Belcher fatally shot his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, in their Kansas City home after an early morning argument - while Zoey and Shepherd were in the home, according to police reports. He then drove to the Chiefs' facility a few miles away and shot himself in the head, in the presence of his head coach and other team officials, as police closed in.

The child is still being cared for by an adult cousin, Sophie Perkins, in Austin, said Grapevine lawyer Jon Michael Franks, who represented Gonzalez in the Texas lawsuit.

Franks said that, during the custody case in Missouri, Gonzelez's interests would be handled by attorney Chastidy Dillon-Amelung of Clayton, Mo.

"I'm disappointed it was sent back to Missouri, but that's my personal and legal opinion," Franks said. "The judges did it, so I have to live with it."

Texas, Missouri and most other states abide by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, which helps judges determine which state should have jurisdiction in custody cases that cross state lines.

Reached Tuesday by phone, Dillon-Amelung said a conference call had been set up for Monday for lawyers on both sides to discuss the case.

Zoey's estate or guardian will receive more than $1 million, under terms of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement.

Also, a trust fund was set up for Zoey by the Hunt family, which owns the Chiefs. It includes contributions from coaches, players, employees and the public.

Belcher's life insurance will pay $600,000 to a beneficiary, plus $200,000 for each season credited to him. Belcher was in his fourth season.

A $100,000 retirement account will also go to his beneficiary or estate.

This report includes material from the Kansas City Star.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

Twitter: @gdickson

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