11-year-old boy asks court to sever all legal ties with his family Advocates hope "divorce" case will give children the right to sue their parents.

July 08, 1992|By New York Times News Service

LEESBURG, Fla. -- For most of his life, the 11-year-old child known as Gregory K. has bounced from parent to parent, house to house and state to state, hoping to find what he described to state investigators as "a place to be."

Now, in a case that advocates hope will give children the right to sue their parents, the boy is seeking to sever all legal ties to his mother and father so that he can be adopted by the foster family he lives with in this small central Florida town.

But the suit that has been brought on the boy's behalf is being contested by his mother, a 30-year-old waitress who argues that a minor has neither the legal right nor the intellectual capacity to ask a court to strip her of her parental rights.

If the boy cannot legally drink until he is 21 or vote until he is 18, his mother, Rachel K., said in a recent interview, "What makes him able, at barely half that age, to make a decision like this?" She has said that she placed the boy and her other two children in the state's care for financial reasons and only temporarily.

The first formal hearing on whether Gregory K. has such rights is not scheduled until later this month in Orlando.

But the case has already sparked an intense debate among legal experts and children's advocates around the nation. It has also caused alarm in Florida and elsewhere because of a fear that a ruling that gives a minor legal standing to sue would allow thousands of other children to seek what the press has been calling a "divorce" from their parents.

It's a term that makes one legal expert, Howard Davidson, executive director of the American Bar Association's Center on Children and the Law, uneasy.

"Although I think it is important that kids be recognized under the law and treated with the same dignity accorded adults," Mr. Davidson said, ". . . Where do you draw the line? Could we then see civil actions for malparenting? How do you define what negligent parenting is? It's very, very difficult."

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