October 11th, 2012

custody of orphaned child blood relative vs nominated guardian

TIMELINE: New York City, 1992-1994

SITUATION: A five year old girl is orphaned in an apartment building fire. Her only known blood relative, a great-uncle, shows up at the hospital where she's being treated for smoke inhalation to claim her (he has papers to prove the relationship) and takes her home with him.
However, the girl's parents have filed wills which nominate the girl's godparents as her guardian in case of their deaths. Once they hear about the fire (maybe two days later?) they contact the parents' attorney about her location.
All these characters live in NYC, if that helps. The great uncle in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, the girl in a different section of Brooklyn, and the godparents in Queens.

1) the great uncle is in his fifties, and the girl or her parents have only met him face to face once or twice before this (he's kept in touch with christmas cards and such). He's very good at projecting a harmless appearance, and can 'boost' his powers of persuasion to make people do what he wants (like, say, persuade a tired and harrassed social worker that he's a fit guardian for the next two months or so).

2) the godparents are only in their early to mid twenties - both are employed, but at fairly low-paid jobs. They're not married, but they've been a couple for several years (they actually met at the girl's christening). However, they've been in constant contact with the girl growing up, and love her dearly. They are also happy to adopt her formally, and willing to move to her old neighbourhood in Brooklyn if it will help her adjust. They are not only the legal nominees, they truly believe the little girl would be better off with them.

3) the girl and her parents aren't the only victims of the fire. Would it be feasible that in the confusion it would take two days or so for social services to catch up with the great uncle? I can only think that someone from the hospital would have automatically contacted them about the minor child, but it would take them several hours for someone to show up, only to be told that the child's been taken into custody by a relative. How soon would a home visit be arranged? And how many home visits, and at what intervals, would take place afterward due to a custody battle?

SPOILERS: The Great Uncle is actually a practitioner of black magic (thus the 'persuasion' boost), who started the fire that killed the parents himself, in order to get his hands on the girl. The idea is that he manages to keep her for two months or so, in order for certain astrological conditions to be met - then finds he doesn't need to use the girl to get what he wants. He then contacts social services and offers to turn her over to the godparents, claiming he's too old and set in his ways (could even throw in a serious illness as garnish) to raise her, and he's happy to sign papers giving up custody. She won't have any further contact, legal or otherwise, with the great-uncle during his lifetime. The godparents take her to live with them in Queens, formally adopting her.


I've googled custody hearings, custody battles, blood vs nominated guardianship, but I only get results for current-day situations.