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Know Your Rights
How to Regain Custody of Your Child: Rights and Procedures
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Valerie L. Sizelove
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Freelance writer, mom of four.
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It’s every mother’s worst nightmare — having her child taken away. Yet, mothers lose custody of their children all the time. Historically, this wasn’t the norm. It used to be that all custody cases were in favor of the mother, who was traditionally seen as the one responsible for raising children. In today’s courts, judges look at the “best interest of the child,” meaning that mothers deemed unfit to parent by the courts can lose rights to their children, too.

Why mothers lose custody.

Everyone has their own story and struggles. Whatever the reason, losing a child hurts for every mother. Sometimes, mothers lose custody because they just needed more help and weren’t getting it. For some, mental illness has a negative impact on their parenting. A toxic relationship with the other parent could strain a parent’s relationship with a child, too. Some other common reasons mothers lose custody of children include:

  • Child abuse
  • Neglect
  • Refusal to cooperate in a co-parenting relationship
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Moving out of the school district
  • Parenting style that is too permissive

How do I get custody of my child back?

If you’ve already lost custody of your child, you might be wondering, “Can I get my parental rights reinstated?” Parenting arrangements aren’t set in stone. But it’s not easy to change them, either. It takes a lot of work such as finding a lawyer, improving your lifestyle and attending parenting or substance abuse classes.  

Ultimately, the family court systems want children to have time with both of their parents unless a parent is unfit, abusive or otherwise neglectful. A parent without custody is usually given the chance to improve their situation, whether that’s through counseling, medical care or a change in their financial situation, in order to prove they are responsible. So, yes, it’s possible to show the judge you’ve improved and regain some time with your children.

Also, don’t forget to consider your child’s wishes, even if the court doesn’t. Would they honestly like switching homes, perhaps for a second time? Do you, as a parent, truly believe this decision would be in your child’s best interest? Children are resilient, but moving them back and forth may confuse and stress them, especially if they have to switch schools.

Procedure.

First, you’ll want to meet with a lawyer who specializes in child custody or family law. Many lawyers offer free consultation appointments, at which you can get an idea of the strength of your case. If you decide to use the lawyer’s services, you’ll usually pay a retainer fee, which means you basically pay in advance for services. The benefits of using a lawyer are: you’re walked through the entire court process, you’re working with an expert in the field and you don’t have to go through it alone.

Whether you hire a lawyer or not, you’ll need to file a motion against the other parent and have a hearing in court, which sometimes requires more than one court meeting. You or your lawyer (if you’re using one) will present documentation to show the judge that you’re fit to parent your child or children. 

Sometimes, the court will require you to meet certain requirements, such as the attendance of counseling, substance-abuse treatment or parenting classes. Some custody-seeking mothers benefit from requesting an up-to-date assessment of their living situation, meaning a home inspection. Receiving a quality score on this type of assessment is likely to help convince the judge to grant you parenting rights.

After doing everything the court asks of you, you’ll receive a decision. At this point, you should be ready to compromise, understanding that any amount of parenting time is better than none. If your custody request is denied, you can still continue to improve in your life and try again in the future.

FAQS.

How do I get custody of my child without a lawyer?

When paying for a lawyer isn’t an option, you can sometimes find lawyers working pro bono or receive legal aid through county government agencies. However, sometimes you’re just forced to go it alone, or “pro se” in legal terms. Start by contacting the courthouse and asking how to get the paperwork for child-custody cases. Learn as much as you can about how the custody laws work in your state, and explore all the parenting agreements that exist.

Pay close attention to court dates and times, and maintain as professional of an image as you can while going through the process. Document everything about your time with your child to be used as evidence of your relationship with them. Remember, you need to impress the judge, so be sure to maintain proper manners and show respect at all times.

How long does a parent have to get their child back from foster care?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, three in five foster children eventually move back in with their original parents or families. To regain custody of your children from foster care, you must be able to convince the courts that you can keep your children safe and meet their needs and that you're fit to be a parent. Most states and cases terminate your rights as a parent after a child has remained in custody for 15 out of 22 months. After that point, it will be very difficult to reverse this decision.

How do the procedures vary by state?

The overall laws of child custody are very similar across the states, but sometimes they vary in their interpretations of a “child’s best interest” or whether they consider the wishes of the child. Some states favor joint custody and co-parenting plans over full custody agreements. Learn what your state considers in child custody cases so you’re well prepared to impress the judge.

The long road ahead.

It’s not going to be easy, but it’s possible to regain custody of your child. If you’ve lost custody of a child, start looking into lawyers, state laws and court requirements. Work on yourself if you need to, whether that means getting control of your mental health or getting your finances in order. Being the best version of yourself is your best shot at regaining custody.

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