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Help for Parents in Dealing with Child Protective Services

By Andrew J Thompson, Esq.

Is the following something you can relate to: you’ve been through a bitter divorce or paternity battle, all the while doing whatever you can to be the best parent you can be.  But the other parent, out of fear, anger, or for some other reason, has reported you to child protective services, and now they are investigating you as a parent.  What did you do?

In many cases, there are very good reasons for CPS’ involvement, to the point of terminating the rights of parents who leave children, without heat or food in their home, inadequate shelter from the elements, or outright physical or emotional abuse, e.g. harsh, physical punishment with extreme objects of force.

But that isn’t your situation.  Instead, you have found yourself on the wrong side of a custody battle, with a now-estranged judge, who is behaving punitively toward you, even though nothing, not even what is reported to CPS, fits the model of abuse or neglect in parenting.  So why are they investigating you?

I have seen many, many instances when a parent has been investigated by child services, and had some or all rights stripped from them, even though that parent is the one person who takes a child’s best interests to heart to the greatest extent possible.  How can this happen?

Consider the following, a single father, with no girlfriend, roommate, or significant other, has his children at home with him on alternating weekends.   His two year son goes back to his mother’s on Sunday evening with a small cut over his left eye.  The father tells the mother exactly what happened – the boys’ five year old sister came to the father and told him the boy was playing in

This is a very difficult situation. You need to be diligent and persistent about pursuing, restoring and protecting your rights.

You have recourse anywhere in the United States because the Constitution respects your rights as a parent above the authority of the state.  Don’t minimize the ultimate importance of this protection. Practically speaking, however, enforcing your rights can be very time consuming, expensive and difficult.  The state has a great deal of power and resources, and generally, once you’re in the CPS system, you are treated with suspicion.

You need to be patient, persistent and forthright in asserting your rights and your will as the parent – more interested in the care of your children than any agency can be.

Regardless of your sex, a good resource may be: http://www.familylawandfathers.com which addresses issues relating to parent’s rights in much detail.  Depending on your finances, it’s possible, though harder than ever, you may be entitled to pro bono representation via your local legal services organization, but the truth is you will receive limited service on a pro bono basis.  If you’re looking for sound, experienced representation, contact the team at the Thompson Law Office, by calling Andrew Thompson at (317) 604-1276, or by email at ajt@thompsonlaw-in.com.  We do offer sliding scale fee rates for individuals with limited resources as well – but don’t kid yourself!   You need to be prepared for a time consuming and expensive battle that comes down to the protection of your rights and of your children.

Hanging in there as a parent to your kids is so important! I wish you well.

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Charges of Child Molestation, Domestic Violence and Battery

If you are charged with a domestic crime, or threatened with such charges, you probably feel like your life has been turned on its head. It becomes vitally important to assess your situation properly, even following the shock of allegations you would never imagine would have made about you.

Whatever it takes, support from family friends, professional support, etc., you need to remain calm. In a way, the situation will force you to do just that – it is incredibly sobering. But the emotional shock alone can cause problems for you at work, at home and just in coping with basic day to day activities.

I’m an attorney, and not a psychiatrist. But I know that if you are struggling in basic life activities, your ability to make sound decisions and act wisely with respect to your legal troubles will also be impaired. Do whatever you can to have your mind in the right place, so your attorney will be able to provide the most help he can for you.

Then it becomes very important to find the right attorney for your needs. Part of remaining calm and processing the situation wisely, is to quickly understand that is not the time for bargain hunting. You do not want to find a lawyer who will take your case at the lowest fee or for the lowest retainer. In fact, you will probably hurt yourself severely if that is how you make your decision.

I would also suggest that it is not the most experience that is necessarily the right answer for you. Experience matters for sure, but it is the right kind of experience in the right places that will help you navigate these difficult times.

In terms of the kind of experience that matters most, a kind of empathethic experience is probably first. This doesn’t have to be someone who has been charged with the same offenses, but it is someone who has experienced a similar situation, either on his own, through a family member or close companion.

Very close in importance is the experience and relationship an attorney has with the judge and the courts where your case will be heard. It cannot guaranty a positive result, and if your case can go to a jury, the relationship with the judge is far less important, but it can make a difference in many ways.

Along with finding the right attorney, you need a cogent and effective strategy for handling your case. You and your attorney form a team – and a bond on that team. You need to be clear about your goal, and have a clear understanding that the goal is achievable and how you will get to that goal.

You will always be best served to be sure you have your whole case in order as you want it to go. This is an unbearably hard thing to face. Take it on with all of the vigor and sincere determination to do the right things that it demands.

Andrew J Thompson is an attorney practicing in Indianapolis, IN. He may reached via email at: ajt@thompsonlaw-in.com or by phone at (317) 269-3422.

Parenting Plans and Court Proceedings: How Noncustodial Parents Can Get More Time with their Kids

I’m often asked to jump into a case because a noncustodial parent isn’t happy with how his/her present attorney is handling their case. To the parents, this is life itself. They aren’t seeing their children as much as they know they should, and they want it fixed now. To the attorney, it’s another sad or difficult case, and they often feel tehy are doing everything they can.

It’s hard to comment on the work of another professional in the middle of the battle. They are dealing with facts you don’t know, and they have their own skills and experience, just as you do.

I can comment on two things, though: (1) where I’m coming from myself as an advocate; and (2) how it contrasts with most good, local family law attorneys.

I’m a single parent myself. I have three beautiful daughters I’ve fought for continuously over the last six years. It’s why I do what I do now.

I’ve been through this. It taught me a few important lessons: as the parent, it’s you who has to engage the battle every day. You have to be willing to do extraordinary things, including having patience, but never giving up the fight. You have to truly walk the high road, higher than anyone will consider giving you credit for.

But you also need an advocate who sees a different end result than most do.

Typically attorneys get locked into a set of assumptions about the outcome of cases. It is very typical for an attorney to assume a long term outcome, i.e. one parent gets custody, the other parent gets some visitation. Unfortunately, the assumed outcome rarely works as conceived.

The problem is, non-custodial parents don’t have much control over the situation. The custodial parent can withhold that visitation, and unless the court will enforce your time with the children, it’s at the other parent’s discretion. And unless you have an attorney who will fight for that time, the court won’t enforce it.

Whatever you do, you need to lay out a plan for the court, ideally that creates a process to get you to joint (50-50), physical custody – or better put, equal parenting time. You cannot necessarily control the timetable – there are many factors that play into it – but the bottom line is you need a process, a plan, and you should continually be making progress toward equal parenting. Once you have equal parenting, then you show you are the parent who follows the schedule, cooperates, abides the court order. Let the other parent fight, disobey the order, and cause the problems – and document it. Ultimately, that is how you “get your kids back”, i.e. get custody of your kids.

It doesn’t matter who the attorney is, but this process needs to underlie the strategy for representing any noncustodial parent. Any other strategy assumes that you do not have equal rights as a parent, nor that your children have the right to the full and equal affection of both parents. The goal should always be to give the kids the full and equal attention of each parent. Then you, the parents become accountable for giving that to them. If the court will recognixe your rights, it is up to you to fully exercise them.

But until the court recognizes this, and until a lawyer will advocate for it, you may be locked out with no ability to give that to your kids.

There is no hustle here. If an attorney will lay this out for you and help you achieve it, great. There is no magic to this, it only takes the understanding of why it’s the right way to proceed and the work ethic to pursue it.

I decided to return to the practice of law and help in these kinds of situations, because most other attorneys just won’t. Truly, there aren’t a handful of attorneys in the country who will go to the trouble of laying a co-parenting plan before the court, and then working it. It upsets a system they have been working with for five, ten, 20, 30 years. Often they are afraid a judge will start ruling against them because suggest something out of the mainstream.

Full and equal parenting, like any other right, like any other responsibility, is something that has to be fought for. It won’t come without vigilance, diligence, persistence, patience – all of the virtues that have made each of the freedoms we enjoy so valuable.

But it also won’t come without effective advocacy. My aim is to provide and support that advocacy where and when I can.

Is Parenting a Civil Rights Issue?

Is Parenting A Civil Rights Issue?
by Andrew J Thompson

Very few family law attorneys, and perhaps fewer local courts in America treat parenting matters as a civil rights issue. I have had many priatitioners inform me that civil rights or Constitutional issues just don’t come into play with respect to divorce, custody or child support matters. This seems rather strange given that the United States Supreme Court itself has recognized parenting as a fundamental right, Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000).

Given the Supreme Court’s disposition, the importance of parenting in general, and the long, deep American tradition of looking upon family as a focal point of our our values and life activities, it should follow that parental rights would be treasured at all levels of society. So why isn’t that the case?

Let’s walk through some possible answers, the problems these present, and some solutions that can help ensure that these rights will be protected at every level of government in a meaningful and productive way.

First, the nature of the relationship between family and the broader society necessarily means that the government and the courts have traditionally been limited in how much protection they can offer to an individual household. This has changed considerably in the last generation, however.

In fact, if anything, rather than the government protecting the family as a unit, in the past generation, there has been more and more intervention from child protective services, local police units, foster parenting agencies, etc. in ways that override one or both parents’ authority within their own home.

Regardless, however, courts often perceive that they are helpless to look behind closed doors and tell what is really happening within a family. They can’t or won’t enforce rights except on matters which occur out in the open – whether these rights are fundamental or not.

Second, there is a similar perception that the enforcement of rights within a family means the protection of women and children, which in turn means protection from a father. That being the case, parenting itself is in no way treated as a civil rights issue, though perhaps women’s rights are being protected on multiple levels in multiple ways.

This results in a bifurcation of the protection of the rights of a woman that is not widely understood. While she maintains a high level of government protection from undesired advances from her husband or boyfriend, she maintains little if any protection from the government itself with respect to her relationship with her children.

Constitutionally, men and women are guaranteed equal protection as to each other, and higher protection as adults than children, with all individual’s protected from intrusion by the government. In an unwritten fashion, however, the law prefers women over men, children over women, and governmental agencies over all. Thus in practice, the government operates nearly in reverse of what the Constitution intended.

Finally then, we approach the crux of the problem. But there is one additional element that needs to be considered – the way local systems of government operate, including their inter-relationship with state and federal levels of government. Local systems lend themselves to corruption via the limited resources that exist for holding them accountable. As people are elected or appointed by their friends within the community, it’s likely there is little opposition at a level that would challenge their credibility or actions. Hence, local officials often are able to ignore significant conflicts of interest that may sway them to handle a matter in a manner that is unbalanced or biased.

But these conflicts exist vertically, through the state and federal government, as well as through the networks of local relationships an official has. This is due to the need for funding to keep these government employees working. That funding typically comes from beyond the local tax base. It is paid for either by the state, or in the case of the collection of child support, about 40% has been paid by the federal government with matching funds. The matching funds were suspended in December 2007, but can be expected to be revived in 2009.

Given the influence presented by these conflicts, it should not be surprising how easily local courts choose to overlook a parent’s Constitutional rights. But is this wrong? Should parenting be treated as a civil rights issue? If so, how?

It’s one thing to note that the Supreme Court’s recognition of parenting as a civil, Constitutional right. It’s another to assert how it should be recognized within the communities in which we live. When it comes to divorce, custody and the rights of parents in relation to their time and the raising of their children, we need to first come to grips with how common it is for children to be raised in single parent households and how regularly father’s are excluded or limited in their role as a parent in these cases.

“The vast majority–84 percent–of custodial parents are mothers, and courts awarded child support to 61 percent of them, compared to 36 percent of custodial fathers, according to 2005 census data. Failure to pay [child support, however,] cuts across gender lines, and less than half of all non-custodial parents met their full obligations.” Child Support Revenues Jump in Obama’s Home State, 08/21/08 By Claire Bushey.

Numerous sources are available to demonstrate that it is the interference by a custodial mother that is most likely to inhibit the time and relationship between a father and his own children, for example: Psychological and Structural Factors Contributing to Disengagement of Noncustodial Fathers After Divorce .

In itself, this raises extraordinary problems for the psychological well-being of the children of divorce. But a significant part of the problem can be resolved by taking away the leverage one parent has to disenfranchise the other from the children’s lives by balancing the power that is left in the hands of both parents regarding the children.

This possibility is regularly set aside in order to protect a mother’s financial support from the father, because courts claim to be ill equipped to resolve differences between parties acting with equal authority, and because it is assumed that the father will ultimately yield to the mother in matters of parenting.

But all three of these assertions bring to light the importance of recognizing and enforcing the protection of a father’s fundamental rights as a parent. Constitutional protections are needed most precisely in cases when cultural stereotypes and assumptions are employed to inhibit an individual’s access to justice – and that is what occurs whenever a father is treated unequally with a mother of the same children.

Until we reach a point where as many families have the father as the custodial parent as the mother, father’s need to be treated with special care and their rights carefully preserved in the courts and administrative offices that govern parenting time and child support.

More attorneys are needed who will stand up for the children, families and fathers that are discriminated against by a system that enables the disenfranchisement of one or both of a child’s parents. If you have a matter that demands this kind of attention, please visit my website, ThompsonLaw-IN.com and contact my office today.