What could have turned into a bitter custody battle over three children whose parents died without a will appointing guardians has been amicably resolved.
The children of Richard and Lisa Goff, who were killed by lightning on July 19, 2003, near Crystal Lake in the Uinta Mountains, will stay under the guardianship of Lisa Goff's sister, Lori Ostler, and her husband, Jeff, who live in Alpine.
After one year, the Ostlers may undertake adoption proceedings.
Custody of the children also had been sought by a paternal aunt and uncle, Christopher and Nancy Goff of Axtell. But now the Goffs will get visitation rights and will remain in the children's lives.
The case had been headed to a three-day court hearing next week in 3rd District Court, but it was resolved June 16 after discussions among the involved parties, according to attorney Blake Ostler, who is Jeff Ostler's brother.
"It's a story of two good families coming together to provide for these children," Blake Ostler said. "It's a wonderful thing when two families that may even disagree with each other — they'd both like to have these kids — are willing to do what's in the best interests of the children.
These people are going out of their way to be kind to each other and these children are the beneficiaries."
Marsha Lang, attorney for other family members, said her clients had asked her not to discuss the case publicly.
The children, a 10-year-old boy, 5-year-old girl and 2-year-old girl, have been living with Jeff and Lori Ostler temporarily while the dispute was under way. The Ostlers have five other children, ranging from a daughter in college to another daughter who is 6.
As for the orphaned youngsters, Blake Ostler said they are doing well despite the fact they've lost their mother and father.
"Nobody can replace parents, but we can do the best we can and minimize their loss to the extent that is possible," he said.
"I've seen the children," he said. "They're playing, they're laughing, they're smiling, they're doing the things kids do. They have their moments. There is ongoing professional counseling and help that's been made available. It's not easy to go through life without natural parents."
The dispute had the potential to turn ugly, but the resolution averted that, Blake Ostler said.
Some extended family members are not completely satisfied, but the couples directly involved in the potential court action seem happy, according to Ostler.
"I believe they are pleased with the outcome," Ostler said. "I'm sure the view of both parties was not that this was one bad family pitted against one good family. They're both good families. These are good and decent people. What they did is a responsible thing."
Ostler said the children's situation underscores the need for parents to plan ahead.
He recommends all parents get a will prepared, discuss guardianship with the people they've chosen, and have backup guardians if, for some reason, the original people cannot or will not take charge of the children should both parents die.
It's an unlikely event, but it does happen.
"If there's one thing we can learn from this, it's that people best serve their children by thinking ahead and considering the unthinkable," he said.