JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The 5-year-old sister of Lonzie Barton will permanently live with her grandmother, a judge ruled Monday morning.
The girl, whose name News4Jax is not using, has lived with Lonna Barton's mother since 22-month-old Lonzie disappeared last July. His remains were found in a wooded area of Bayard in January.
Both of the girl's parents are in jail. Lonna Barton was sentenced to five years for child neglect and lying to police in connection with Lonzie's disappearance, and both Lonna Barton and Chris Barton are facing drug charges in Baker County,
Magistrate Denise Bowen awarded permanent custody of the child to her maternal grandmother, Debra Lauramore.
"It will be a pleasure to have my granddaughter," Lauramore said after the hearing.
Case workers told Bowen that the girl is doing great and that she is a jokester and seems to be very happy with her grandmother.
“At least that way you maintain the family bond and this is somebody the child already knows, a person the child is already comfortable with and has experience with,” said family law attorney Eric Friday, who is not connected with the Barton case. “If there's a loving family member, why would you not use that as a first option?”
Lonna Barton was at the hearing, and Chris Barton joined by telephone from the Baker County jail.
Lauramore will have custody until the girl is 18. Bowen also ordered that Chris and Lonna Barton can have phone contact with their daughter, but any type of visit will be supervised and must be approved by the child’s therapist.
“A judge doesn't have time to review the details of this case every time it comes in front of him, so by having a therapist there who sees the child on a regular basis, the judge can have informed information on what this child needs and what's in the best interest of the child, because at the end of the day the primary issue at the core is what is in the child's best interest,” Friday said.
When the Bartons get out of prison, supervised contact with their child will be allowed for half an hour once a week, but if they want anything more than that, they will have to go back to court.
“The parents will have the ability to ask for a change in custody once they're out of prison,” Friday said. “That will require several steps. DCF will probably be involved, conduct a home study, a social investigation and determine if they are truly rehabilitated, and if they are, the parents will probably have a process for them to regain unsupervised time and then custody of the child if that's what they choose to do.”
Chris Barton, who case workers said has been very cooperative, has asked that he have a face-to-face visits with his daughter if he is sent to prison. Bowen gave her approval for such visits with either parent, as long as the child's therapist agrees.
Chris Barton’s family has been able to visit the girl, and that relationship will continue, with cooperation from Lauramore. No more visits by case workers are scheduled.
Throughout the legal process, the girl has been represented by the guardian ad litem program, which is designed to help children in court cases.