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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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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: email@example.com or by phone at (317) 269-3422.
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.
Year after year, studies continue to show that chidlren fare better the more time they spend with their fathers. Yet, fewer than 30% of single fathers have sole or joint physical custody of their minor children, and the remaining 70% typically have the children in their care less than 25% of the time. This seems to utterly defy the evidence.
While it is true that there are fathers who more or less disappear from the scene, on their own, more often it is due to factors they do not control, nor desire. The other factors that weigh against a father’s time with the children include:
1) archaic, standard parenting time schedules that do not take into account individual situations;
2) the continuing favor afforded to women in custody decisions, and then also in determining the balance of parenting time;
3) the ability of mothers, as custodial parents, to manipulate situations to inhibit parenting time as awarded to a father.
These factors, often combine to push fathers to conclude that it isn’t worth the continuing fight to have time with children who act as if they do not want to be with their father at all. Unfortunately, the psychological profession, which contributes so much to the chosen patterns of parenting time schedules, has done very, very little to help fathers work through the lose-lose situations they often face.
This needs to change. Because lawyers, mediators and judges rely so heavily on the opinions of pyschology professionals, the lack of time children have with their fathers after divorce is not likely to change for the better until therapists determine to help create models for true family restoration.
It seems that men are not as easily molded into the mid- and post-treatment packages desired by the psych profession as are women and children, so they are left out to dry. Sadly, however, the ultimate suffering for the loss of connection with a father falls on the children themselves – as the studies reveal – and often, on their mother as well.
The lifetime emotiional toll of divorce and separation is enough in and of itself. It’s time for the family courts, the bar, and the surrounding professionals to work together at avoiding deeper tragedies. All that is required is for noncustodial parents to be awarded greater equality in the split of parenting time, and to see that this time is enforced as clearly and zealously as is child support.
As soon as this change is made, we will begin to see mroe cooperation in divorce and custody matters, and more emotionally healthy chidlren coming into adulthood.