'People's Court' Missing Mom's Kids Returned
A Florida father, named as the prime suspect in the People's Court missing mom case, has regained custody of the couple's young children.
The 3-year-old twins of Dale Smith, 40, and his ex-fiancée Michelle Parker, 33, must be returned to Smith's custody, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Child welfare agents removed the twins Tuesday from the Orlando home where Smith lives with his parents, the Associated Press reports. Authorities were concerned that Smith showed abusive behavior in the past.
State laws generally allow child welfare agencies to remove children from a parent if the kids are in imminent danger. Once removed, the children are placed in the care of other relatives or in foster homes.
But Judge Thomas Turner said there was no evidence Smith ever abused his children, and discounted Smith's alleged prior bad behavior.
"I don't think incidents that happened years ago constitute a pattern," Turner said, according to the AP. Without evidence of abuse, the twins cannot be said to be in imminent danger in Smith's care, Turner added.
Orlando police have named Smith as the prime suspect in the People's Court missing mom case -- though Smith has not been arrested or charged.
Smith and Parker were featured on an episode of The People's Court that aired Nov. 17, to settle a dispute over a $5,000 engagement ring, ABC News reports.
The TV judge ordered Parker and Smith to split the cost of the ring. Parker, who has joint custody of her children with Smith, went missing that same day.
Since then, suspicion has swirled around Smith -- fueled by a domestic violence restraining order request that was dismissed in 2009, according to ABC, and by a lack of other suspects.
Smith maintains he's done nothing wrong. He's shared his concerns on his Facebook page, where he says he hopes the People's Court missing mom returns home safe and sound.
- Judge rules missing woman's kids should be returned to father (Florida Today)
- Ex-fiance named as suspect in 'The People's Court' case (Reuters)
- Types of Child Custody (FindLaw)
- Can You Lose Child Custody Over Tiny Pot Stash? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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