Florida court weighs restoring dead father's custody rights

MIAMI — In life, he was a lousy father. His love for the crack pipe was mightier than the love for his children, a judge in Florida's Broward County decided, and ended his parental rights to his pre-teen daughter.

But before his appeal of the judge's order was final, the father known in court records as C.A. died when he was hit by a car.

And now, an appeals court is wondering: perhaps the little girl should keep her father, after all.

In a case believed to be a first in Florida, the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach has ordered Broward Circuit Judge John Frusciante to reconsider his order ending C.A.'s rights as a father. Perhaps, the court says, it is in the girl's ``best interests'' to retain a relationship with C.A. now that he is dead.

At stake: perhaps a large sum of money. If the girl -- who is not named in the appeals court decision -- has no legal ties to her father, she would have no right to claim any proceeds from a wrongful-death lawsuit that may be filed by her father's estate, the opinion says.

In a nod to state child welfare administrators who asked the appeals court to reconsider the case in light of C.A.'s death, the three-judge appeals panel wrote that ``even if the final judgment [severing C.A.'s rights was] soundly based and affirmed, it may not now be in the best interests of the child to do so.''

Child welfare legal experts, including Frusciante, say the ruling appears to be the first time a Florida judge has been asked to restore a parent's rights after death.

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