KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The custody battle for Jovan Belcher's infant daughter has begun. The paternal grandmother of four-month-old Zoey Michelle Belcher was in a Jackson County court Friday to state her case. The maternal grandparents of Zoey, who live in Texas and who are also seeking custody, will appear in court Jan. 22.
On Friday, the court ruled that a guardian ad litem be assigned to the case. A guardian ad litem is a court-appointed attorney that's responsible for doing several things including interviewing witnesses, making home visits and gathering information in an effort to determine what's best for the child.
"The court does not have to follow guardian ad litem recommends," said Martin Kuny of Kuny Law Firm. "But many times judges, obviously, give a lot of importance to what the guardians say simply because they're perceived as being -- as having no other bias than what's best for the child."
Last month, Jovan Belcher's mother, Cheryl Shepherd, was given custody of Zoey shortly after the Dec. 1st murder-suicide of Belcher and Kasi Perkins, Zoey's mother. Two weeks before the deadly shooting, Shepherd had moved in with Belcher and Perkins to help care for the child. She was in the home when Belcher shot and killed Perkins and called authorities immediately after. She filed a petition on Dec. 14 asking to be appointed Zoey's guardian and conservator of her estate.
In December, Shepherd allowed Perkins' parents, Rebecca Anne Gonzalez and Darryl Perkins, to temporarily take Zoey to Texas for her mother's funeral. Zoey was never returned to Shepherd.
According to a letter from Shepherd's lawyer, "The maternal relatives have now ceased communicating with Cheryl Shepherd and have refused to return her calls or return the child to her care."
Zoey's maternal grandparents and other relatives have also filed a lawsuit seeking temporary custody of her and have asked for a social study into the care and home of anyone requesting guardianship of her. According to published reports, on the morning of the shooting, Belcher and Perkins had argued about the paternity of the child, according to Jovan Belcher's mother.
Whoever is granted custody of Zoey will receive more than $1 million under the terms of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement. If Zoey attends college, she would continue to receive funds until the age of 23.
Zoey will also receive $600,000 in life insurance, along with $200,000 for each of Belcher's credited seasons with the NFL. At the time of his death, he was in his fourth season with the Chiefs. In addition, $100,000 in a retirement fund will also be given to Zoey. Money could also come from a trust funded by the Hunt family, Chiefs coaches and others in the Chiefs organization, as well as contributions from the public.