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Orphaned siblings caught in tug of war

Grandparents, aunt and uncle seeking custody

SHARE Orphaned siblings caught in tug of war

Three children who saw their parents killed by lightning are now at the center of an angry custody dispute involving both sets of grandparents and an aunt and uncle.

Richard and Lisa Goff were killed July 19 near Crystal Lake in the Uinta Mountains. Their children are 9, 5 and 1.

Lisa Goff's sister, Lori Ostler, and her husband, Jeff, on Aug. 4 were named the children's temporary guardians. The children's grandparents, Glenn and Linda Goff and Nadine Waldron, are arguing over who the parents wanted to become the children's guardians should anything happen to them.

Court documents state Waldron, the maternal grandmother, told a social worker at Primary Children's Medical Center that Lisa Goff had said she wanted her family to raise the children if the couple died. Paternal grandfather Glenn Goff reported the exact opposite to the same social worker.

By July 20 the families had struck a deal. Glenn and Linda Goff would take the children for the first 10 days after they were discharged. Then Lisa's family would take them for the next 10 days.

By the end of that time, the families intended to have a plan in place for the long-term care of the children.

Those intentions dissolved Aug. 1, the day Lisa Goff's family took custody.

That day, Glenn Goff authorized an attorney to file a petition for guardianship in 6th District Court in Manti.

Three days later the Ostlers asked a judge to issue them temporary guardianship of the children, claiming the children would "be deprived of educational opportunities and access to medical care and counseling." The order was signed by a 4th District judge in Provo.

Blake Ostler, an attorney who represents his brother, Jeff Ostler, said the 4th District filing centered on the children's well-being, including health-care coverage, enrollment in school and grief counseling.

The Goffs were unaware of the hearing and dispute the allegations. Their attorney, Martha Lang, called the move legalized "kidnapping" in court documents.

The children were enrolled in school in Sanpete County and were checked by a doctor the day after their release from the hospital, Linda Goff said. During that medical checkup, the Goffs also obtained a list of counselors for the children.

Now, with two court cases asking for guardianship, there is a dispute over which court has authority to rule in the matter.

A judge in 6th District Court in Manti is set to rule on the jurisdiction issue Friday. In a court hearing Tuesday, 4th District Judge Gary Stott said the children should remain in the Ostlers' custody pending the outcome of that hearing. Stott stressed that he didn't want the children shuttled back and forth between Sanpete and Utah counties, according to his court clerk.

With a month passed since the legal fight erupted, family members on both sides acknowledge a resolution is needed.

"We have to get beyond the emotion," Jeff Ostler said. "We've got to get this resolved."

Mediation negotiations may end the dispute, particularly with family members saying it is hurting the children. "I hate it. I hate it. Nobody wins," Glenn Goff said.