Should we try for custody?
November 6, 2005 4:34 PM   Subscribe

My husband's grandson (my stepson's son) came to live with us last week after Child Protective Services removed him from his mother's care. She still has legal custody of him. What are the benefits and drawbacks of getting legal custody of him through the courts?

We live in Washington State. The boy in question--in addition to having been the victim of neglect--is bipolar, has sexually assaulted his little sister (which is one of the reasons he is no longer living at home) and has a history of fire-setting. I know that makes him sound like a monster, but he's not. He's never had much structure in his life and has been given his meds rather haphazardly. One of my questions about temporary legal custody is whether or not we would then be financially responsible if he were to do something like call 9-1-1 with a false report or burned down his school or something like that. Any advise as to whether or not custody would be a good avenue to pursue? What are the drawbacks and liabilities compared to the benefits?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (4 answers total)
I can't speak to your liability if he were to start a fire, but I can tell you about the benefits of getting custody.
Since the mother retains legal custody she can take him back any time she wants. Child Protective Services might then take him into foster care as you were unable to protect him from the mother and the things that caused him to be placed with you in the first place.
If you have legal custody the police can and will help you keep him if the mother should decide to take him back against the wishes of CPS.
Custody also will help you enroll him in school and go to doctor appointments. The doctors and school don't always give grandparents trouble, but just in case.
In my state custody can be returned to the parent very easily by going to the same court that granted it and asking the judge to return custody to the parent.
posted by prjo at 5:34 PM on November 6, 2005

I have an older half-brother I've never met. I've never met him because of a situation similar to the one you describe. My mother has had no contact with him for, I'd guess, 30 years. Only her side of the story is available to me, but here goes.

She lost custody to the grandparents. She didn't just lose it in one court battle, but several. My mother gave up because she didn't have money to go to court anymore and she was emotionally drained by it. The grandparents were hostile to her and I assume wouldn't let them have contact. She told her son if he needed her to contact her. That contact never came.

By now I think she's "over it," but I can still tell on the few occasions that we speak about it that the whole experience is incredibly painful. I can't speak to her fitness as his mother because I don't really know the circumstances well enough. She has been an amazing mother to me. However, I do know that making this decision can affect a lot of other people down the line.

If you do gain custody, no matter what you feel about the mother or her parenting, please make sure you keep her in his life as much as possible.
posted by Captaintripps at 7:19 PM on November 6, 2005

You will be liable, insofar as there would be legal liability, for anything the child does once you have legal custody. Of course, there would be limits based upon what you would be reasonably believed to have the ability to control. (His behavior at school, for instance, may not be considered to be something that you'd have to pay for, since he's not in your physical care at the time.)

However, if the child is under your custody, he should be covered under your medical insurance (if you have it) or eligible for services via Medicaid due to being a displaced child, which should enable him to receive psychiatric care as needed. You mentioned medication; presumably living in a satble home environment where he is properly medicated for his bipolar and is receiving appropriate, attentive loving care from you and your spouse should help him to gain more control over his behavior.

It is a huge decision. Whatever happens, this child is going to need a lot of counseling and help to get to some place of normalcy in his life. I bid your family much hope and peace in the trials that are inevitably to come.
posted by Dreama at 8:53 PM on November 6, 2005

As a first step, legal guardianship will be much easier to get than legal custody. Also look into your state's Kinship Care program. It isn't as comprehensive as the resources available to foster parents or adoptive parents, but it will give you formal access to certain resources.

Another issue would be a Termination of Parental Rights if the mother is a seriously bad influence on his life. It sounds like he's the problem himself, though, from what you posted.

Grandparents' rights are a bit in turmoil right now -- after several years of increasing legal recognition, several rulings have set the cause back as the metronome ticks back in the direction of biological parents. You will need a lawyer.
posted by dhartung at 8:55 PM on November 6, 2005

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