Being a primary caretaker of a child is hard work. Being the only caretaker is harder. Single parents – no matter their station in life – carry a unique burden when it comes to raising children.
A parent who has been uninvolved in your child’s life, even to the extent of being completely missing for a number of years, still has a legal right to seek custody or visitation unless somehow his or her parental rights were legally terminated. The reasons for a parent’s absence can vary, and those reasons may or may not have an impact on custody or visitation. The court’s job is to consider what’s in the best interest of a child and there are factors that play into that decision.
One thing to bear in mind is that a parent who has been completely absent from a child’s life or who has been very inconsistent is not likely to receive custody. It’s not unheard of, but unless there were extenuating circumstances the court would find hard not to consider, it’s a big change. Unless a change in custody is an enormous benefit to your child and safety is not an issue, an immediate custody change would be a rarity.
Some of the primary factors the court looks at include:
- The child’s preference. The age of the child can make a difference. Younger children may not even remember the parent who left, which creates a situation where the parent-child relationship would need to be established. An older child may not only remember the parent but the behavior that led to him or her being removed from the child’s life. The parent suddenly reemerging can have a detrimental effect on the child’s emotional and psychological wellbeing.
- Fitness of the parent. Is there an issue with mental health or drug and alcohol abuse? If so, those problems need to be addressed head on for the safety of your child. If the parent just outright abandoned your child because he or she wasn’t up to the task, it’s going to take proving to a judge that he or she is capable of putting your child first and won’t disappear again.
- Prior abandonment or surrender of the child. Obviously the court will have a lot to weigh given the parent seeking custody or visitation has been absent from the child’s life, which has a direct impact on many of the other factors like who the primary care giver is or length of separation.
What can I do to protect my child from being hurt?
If the absentee parent is simply unstable and has a track record of floating in and out of your child’s life, the fear of emotional disruption and psychological trauma is very real. You want to spare your child from feeling like a yo-yo at the whim of his or her other parent, which may require asking the court to establish rules and boundaries for re-entering your child’s life.
Not only will this serve to help protect your child, but it will act as a gauge for how serious the other parent is about becoming a healthy, reliable fixture in your child’s life again. Some of the safeguards you can request, or the court may automatically deem necessary under the circumstances, include:
- Supervised visitation. When a parent’s connection with his or her child has been severed for an extended period whether willingly or not, it takes time to rebuild a parent-child relationship. Your child may not be comfortable with the other parent or be angry with him or her and forcing them into a situation in the hopes that time will heal all wounds may not make for the smoothest transition. Having an approved supervisor present as a buffer and to ensure your child is comfortable and safe is standard in these situations.
- Psychological evaluation. If the absentee parent left because he or she has some character trait or psychological issue that played a significant role, the court would very likely need to hear some evidence that the condition has been treated and that past events don’t continue to affect his or her ability to be a healthy influence in your child’s life.
- Parenting classes. Often when a parent walks away from his or her child it is because the necessary life skills are lacking. Before being able to take on that responsibility, it can be a good idea to make sure the parent reentering your child’s life has the basics down to help ensure he or she can cope with the challenges presented by parenting.
- Drug or alcohol testing. If a parent has a history of substance abuse and wants back into his or her child’s life, it’s prudent to ensure that parent is no longer living life under the influence. Periodic testing for substance abuse will provide you and the court important information needed to decide whether it’s safe to try to reestablish a parent-child relationship.
Whether you are the custodial parent or the absentee parent, it is imperative to your goal of protecting your child to seek knowledgeable legal advice. Schedule a consultation today with one of our devoted Fulton child custody attorneys at McCabe Russell, P.A. by calling 443-917-3347, or we invite you to reach out to us through our contact form.
At McCabe Russell, PA, we have an established reputation as assertive and confident negotiators and litigators, offering legal guidance designed to eliminate any of our clients’ worries and confusion. We are experienced family law attorneys in Howard and Montgomery County, but we serve clients throughout Maryland. Read more about McCabe Russell, PA.