Miami Relatives' Legal Setback Bodes Well for Elian's Father

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"Father (or Mother) knows best" has always been something of a lodestar for U.S. courts when it comes to issues concerning children, which may give Juan Miguel Gonzalez cause for optimism over his first-ever direct appeal to an American judge. Although it postponed ruling on the father's claim to be the exclusive representative of his child in legal matters until the May 11 appeal, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday recognized his right to intervene in the case. More importantly, it denied requests by his Miami relatives for access to Elian, for the right of their own psychiatrists to examine him, and for the appointment of an outside guardian pending the outcome of the asylum appeal they filed on the boy's behalf. Instead, the court accepted the government's offer of bi-weekly reports on Elian's well-being from the psychologist and social worker it has appointed in the case.

Overall, the ruling appears to bode well for efforts by Juan Miguel Gonzalez and the U.S. government to overturn the Miami relatives' bid for asylum for Elian against his father's wishes. "It would certainly have been very unusual for the court to rule against the father on the guardian issue because the law presumes that a person's parent is their guardian, and doesn't appoint outside guardians in the normal course of events," says TIME legal correspondent Adam Cohen. "For the court to appoint a third-party guardian it would usually need an indication that something was badly wrong in the parent-child relationship, such as abuse."

The Miami relatives now appear to have been shut out on any legal claim for access to Elian, and the government-appointed psychologist has recommended that they be kept away from the boy in their current state of anger. The only of Lazaro Gonzalez's requests that was upheld was a ruling forbidding Elian from being taken to places that enjoy diplomatic immunity, which is an extension of the court's previous order that he not be removed from the U.S. The Miami relatives also failed to persuade the court that no Cuban medical or mental health personnel should have access to the child, an attempt to counteract the father's efforts to create a Cuban environment by bringing in Elian's former kindergarten teacher and a 10-year-old cousin. Four more playmates; a parent for each and a pediatrician arrived in Washington Thursday to join Elian's family in Maryland. "The court would have found it difficult to rule that Elian could not be examined by mental health professionals from his own country," says Cohen. "While the Miami relatives are strongly anti-Cuba, Elian's father is not, and in the end it's likely that the court will give him the ultimate say in what happens to his son."