Karen Williams, a former Douglas County resident, was awarded full custody of her 11-year-old daughter last month after a years-long battle that helped change Kansas law.
"When it's something you've prayed for...it was pretty emotional," Williams said of Douglas County District Court Judge Sally Pokorny's decision Dec. 6 granting Williams sole custody of her daughter.
Williams' legal battle, which went to the Kansas Court of Appeals, involved the role of case managers — appointed by the courts — in custody hearings.
In March 2011, WiIliams, who had previously shared custody of her daugther with her former husband Jeffrey Hutchison, lost custody of her daughter after a case manager recommended to Pokorny that custody be awarded to the husband.
But the issue was never heard in court by Pokorny, and Williams took the decision to the Kansas Court of Appeals.
'You think this can't really happen in America," Williams said of losing custody without a court hearing.
The Court of Appeals sent the case back to Douglas County for a hearing after determining that parents are entitled to due process when the custody of a child is involved.
At the December hearing in Douglas County, the father didn't show up in court, and Williams — represented by Lawrence attorney James Rumsey — was awarded full custody.
Hutchison, who has hired an attorney, said it's possible they'll pursue filing motions in the case, but declined further comment.
The legal battle has thrown Williams — who now lives in Marion — into the role of parental rights advocate. Earlier this year, Williams advocated for a Kansas law — later passed — that placed licensing requirements on case managers.
And Williams hopes that her fight, which centered on the unchecked power of case managers, encourages the courts to give parents full hearings in custody disputes.
But it hasn't been easy, Williams said.
"A lot of deaf ears," said Williams, who contacted legislators and other advocates "trying to get someone to help me."
Williams said she now gets calls from advocates and parents across Kansas seeking advice in custody cases.
"Be patient," said Williams, who was able to spend the holidays with her daughter this year. "Parents just can't give up. It's worth it in the end."