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EmilyBee's picture

That was a phrase DH and I heard several times from our attorney during our custody case. She warned us repeatedly that judges want reunification between children and absent mothers. If the BM has an issue with alcohol and drugs, they will suggest rehab. If they have anger issues, they suggest anger management. They will suggest parenting classes and all sorts of other things, anything to get the children and mother back together. We wrote down the steps that BM had already taken - she was currently in rehab ("court ordered," which amazed me). She had completed "all her classes," including parenting classes. She had technically been sober, as far as we knew. But she did not have a car, a job, or a place to live on her own. The attorney said that the judge would take those things into consideration, but most Family Courts just wanted the mother and her children together, no matter what it takes. I asked her why they don't even consider that (maybe) the best parent for the child isn't necessarily the biolgical one. She shrugged and said "It's just been this way as long as I've been practicing."

DH and I were lucky that BM didn't show up for the first court date. But we knew the judge might give her a second chance. He was going to leave that door open. The "ball was in her court," so to speak. Then when the second court date came and went and BM didn't show, that might have been his light-bulb moment that this was an exception. In a truly rare case, DH was granted full sole custody. The judge even stripped BM of her visitation rigthts and stated if she wanted them back, she would have to fight for it. So we waited to see if she would - and eight years passed before we heard anything about it. We wonder what might have happened if she had tried sooner. Would the judge have given a third chance or would she have been a no-show for yet another time? The magical "reunification" that the court systems seem to want so badly....I still don't fully understand it.


SeeYouNever's picture

Reunification is a term they use when parents have their kids taken away due to drugs, neglect or some other CPS type case, it's not a term they use for regular custody cases. 

In fact reunification is a term that they used to dangle in front of crappy parents to try to motivate them to get through their rehab and parole. Parents who have had their kids taken away because of drugs and what not are able to get their kids back but they need to check certain boxes and jump through certain hoops in order to do so.

Some parents don't care about reunification at all and these are the ones that have their rights terminated by the court. If they screw up enough times even the Court gives up. Though Justice moves very very slowly and these types of parents get second chances for years. The real tragic part is that the kids want reunification too. Kids want both parents in their lives no matter the circumstances. In cases where there isn't at least one decent parent or relative these kids are in the foster care system for years while their parents try to get their act together. And then if after a few years the Court decides that the parent just isn't going to do it then the kids are put up for adoption. There is a phrase in the Foster system that everyday kids get older and less cute and less adoptable. They are lucky they have you and your husband. 

The next word you might start hearing is "recidivism"

lieutenant_dad's picture

Kids do better when they have both their parents in their lives - provided both of those parents are healthy and able to be good parents. 

Whether people like it or want to believe it, addiction is a disease that requires treatment. A parent with a drug use issue who seeks treatment and gets better *should* be reunited with their children. Not allowing for reunification when someone is in recovery would be the equivalent of keeping kids away from a parent who is in remission from cancer, as most parents would struggle to care for their kids while in the midst of cancer treatment if they didn't have help from family and friends.

In many cases, parents deserve a second chance if they screw up. BUT, they have to put in the work. Giving those parents help and resources to get better is makes better financial sense than leaving parents to figure it out entirely on their own. It's an expensive upfront investment that pays dividends.

However, I agree that if a parent won't put in the work that the better alternative is likely to limit contact with that parent. But kids still need to learn how to interact with that parent and hold whatever boundaries that they need to set with them becaude a more lenient judge could grant visitation, and kids eventually grow up to be adults who might be curious about whether their parent really is problematic.

Finally, I say all this through the lens of dealing with a parent in addiction. Losing rights to kids due to poverty is, in most cases, a disgusting practice. While I do think kids should primarily live with the more financially stable parent (or have 50/50, or the financially stable parent should pay CS to make the other parent financially stable if they don't want custody), parental rights and visitation shouldn't be taken away just because the parent is poor. Housing and food are expensive, and it doesn't take much to cause someone to fall flat on their face (especially if they are single). It's one thing if a parent specifically chooses to be underemployed or mismanage their funds to not be able to afford the basics. However, if a parent is just poor, I'd rather see resources spent to help them become stable (which seems entirely feasible given how much the government charges for the "privilege" of paying CS and how much is spent pursuing criminal charges on folks who don't pay CS).

tog redux's picture

Kids miss an absent parent, period. It's a loss to them, no matter how wonderful their other parent and stepparent are. They will always hope that she comes back into their life. The courts are right to leave that door open when they can. 

Rumplestiltskin's picture

While i do agree that addiction is a disease and doesn't make someone bad or necessarily an unfit parent (how many semi-functional alcoholics still have custody?), this OP has raised the child for 8 years. The BM has disappeared for years at a time. I'm a BM too, and I see the point of view of the biomom and how the kids will always feel a pull, but it makes me sad to see the stable family that OP has worked so hard to create threatened because BM suddenly shows back up. This OP has done pretty much everything throughout the girl's childhood. All the hard work. I see why she is so distraught.

OP, I'm so sorry. Maybe, as Lt. Dad has said, allowing some visitation will allow SD to see her BM as she really is and not as some long-lost fantasy. I know that addiction doesn't necessarily mean you are a bad person or a selfish parent, but maybe this BM is both suffering from a disease and also is a shitty uncaring parent. If so, better for SD to see reality and accept it. 

tog redux's picture

I guess to me it seems like this is the risk you take with claiming stepkids as your own. The OP catalogs all BM's faults, but when BM does make some effort, OP is angry that she wants to have contact with her own kids.  

Rumplestiltskin's picture

It is the risk, but nobody seems to warn anyone about it except on this site. Society tells the SM, "love them like your own, treat them like your own." If you don't, many, many people will make you feel like a monster. Most SMs own husbands are the biggest pushers of this, especially when there's a sub-standard BM.

This OP did that for almost a decade. Built a family and, to her, BM is a threat. BM is threatening to take away OP's child, to break up her family. As a mom, i would be sick if someone threatened to take my child. So who is the mom here? The one who performed the job (OP), or the birth mother? It's a sad situation and i feel OP's pain in each of her many, many posts. And yes, i know, the child's needs come first, but it's OP's point of view I'm reading and it really breaks my heart for her. 

tog redux's picture

But it's not her child, that's the issue. And BM isn't threatening to "take her away", she wants contact with her, and the child seems interested as well. I don't begrudge the OP some upset about this, but to this degree? She needs some professional help to sort this out and stop seeing it as something happening to HER. 

Rags's picture

Nothing more than a term used by dumbasses in idiot Harry Potter robes slinging Fisher-Price wooden hammers who are too stupid to recognize that no child should be forced into the presence of toxic dipshits.


IMHO it would be better to make it all a formula.  Income, education, no police record, no substance abuse, safe quality housing, safe transportation, good school district, involved parent Vs. No/low income, a record, substance abuse, crappy neighborhood, less quality schools.

Make it a custody calculator similar to a CS calculator. Everyone plugs in the digits and has a very good idea what the court outcome will be. The Judge should have very firm limits on discretionary decisioning that can apply only when there is a truly mitigating information element.

And yes, I am a fan of minimum sentences and 3 strikes rules for notable crime.

Good people should not be burdened by the presence of toxic people. And for damned sure kids should not be forced into the presence of the toxic.