Parenting is a rewarding but difficult job, even when both parents support each other and are committed to protecting their children’s best interests. Parenting certainly becomes much more complicated after a couple divorces and complex custody issues need to be resolved. Ideally, both parents can set aside their differences and focus on what is best for the children. Unfortunately, there are situations where a parent’s behavior could endanger, or threaten the safety and well-being of the children. While no parent is perfect, behavior that is abusive, neglectful or threatens the health and safety of the children in any way could cause a parent to lose custody. If you have questions or concerns about custody issues, do not hesitate to contact a dedicated and experienced child custody lawyer.
Do Family Courts Favor Mothers?
In the past, the courts generally found that custody of the children should be granted to the mother. However, this is no longer the case. There are no state laws to favor mothers in custody hearings. A growing number of states actually have laws that prohibit family court judges from basing their decisions on the parent’s gender. Ultimately, custody-related decisions are based on what is in the child’s best interests. That means that either parent could lose custody of the child if the court finds that the mother or father has jeopardized the child’s health or safety in some way. The court may order sole physical custody to restrict the amount of time that the child spends with the unsafe parent, and sole legal custody to prevent the parent from being able to make important legal decisions on behalf of the child.
What Are the Most Common Reasons for Losing Custody?
If the court finds that a parent is unfit and the child’s physical and emotional well-being is in jeopardy, the parent could lose custody, as well as the right to make significant parenting decisions. While the best-case scenario is for the children to have stable homes where they feel safe and secure when they are with either parent, the court will restrict parental time in the following circumstances:
- The parent is abusing the child. Child abuse occurs when a parent or caregiver intentionally harms a child. There are a number of different types of abuse including the following:
- Physical abuse: This can include hitting, punching, burning, shoving, choking, whipping or any other type of behavior that causes the child to suffer a physical injury. While spanking is not considered abuse if it does not injure the child, experts discourage this type of physical discipline. Parents should resort to non-physical forms of discipline.
- Sexual abuse: When a parent engages in any type of sexual activity with a child, this is considered sexual abuse. Examples of sexual abuse include touching a child’s genitals, forcing a child to touch a parent’s genitals, or forcing them to engage in sexual intercourse. Sexual abuse can also include non-touching behavior, including exposing a parent’s genitals to a child, showing pornography to a child, trafficking a child or forcing a child to watch or listen to a parent perform sexual acts. In most cases, a parent who sexually abuses a child will lose custody and all parental rights.
- Emotional abuse: This is another type of abuse that occurs when the parent engages in behavior that can have a negative impact on the child’s emotional well-being. Examples include shaming the child, withholding affection, constantly yelling at the child or keeping the child isolated from friends and family.
- Neglect: This occurs when a parent fails to meet the child’s basic physician and emotional needs. There are different types of neglect, including physical neglect, where the parent fails to provide the necessary food, shelter, clothing and hygiene, or leaving a child in a dangerous environment. Educational neglect occurs when a parent fails to enroll the child in school or allows them to miss multiple days of school. Medical neglect is the failure to provide the necessary medical care if the child is sick or injured.
- A parent is abusing drugs or alcohol. If a parent has an untreated alcohol or drug addiction that puts the child in potentially unsafe situations, the court will likely restrict the parenting time and require supervised visitation. If the parent has completed a treatment program, and is otherwise a safe and loving parent, the courts might not retract custody, although the court may require the patient to take regular drug or alcohol tests.
- A parent kidnaps a child. Kidnapping a child is a crime, even if the child is abducted by a biological parent. When a parent intentionally keeps a child from the other parent, they will likely lose custody of the child, particularly if the parent crossed state lines, or caused the child to suffer physical or psychological harm. An exception to this rule is if a parent takes the child away from the other parent because the child was being abused, or exposed to unsafe, dangerous circumstances.
- A parent fails to obey court orders. Parenting plans and custody orders are legal mandates that must be followed by both parents. A failure to abide by the court order could result in a loss of custody, or even criminal charges.
- A parent tries to jeopardize the child’s relationship with the other parent. When a parent badmouths the other parent, makes up lies about things that they did or said, or actively discourages the child from spending time with the other parent for the sole purpose of creating conflict, they could lose custody of the child.
How Do I Regain Custody?
While losing custody of your children is devastating, you may be able to regain custody if you are able to prove to the court that you have addressed the issue that caused you to lose custody in the first place. The following are proactive steps you can take to help the process go as smoothly as possible and ensure that you are reunited with your children as soon as possible:
- Consider why you lost custody. A judge will always consider what is in the best interests of the child when making decisions regarding custody. The first step to regaining custody is to take responsibility for losing custody, and take immediate steps to make the necessary changes, and provide proof of your improved circumstances.
- Work with an experienced child custody lawyer. Consult with a highly skilled child custody lawyer who has a proven track record with reaching successful outcomes in complex custody cases. They will work closely with you to discuss all of your questions and concerns and recommend the best legal course of action for regaining custody.
- Determine whether regaining custody is contingent on special circumstances. In some cases, you may not recover custody until you meet a certain set of requirements. For example, if you lost custody because of a drug or alcohol addiction, you may need to complete a drug or alcohol treatment program before you can regain custody. The sooner you meet these requirements the sooner you will get custody of your children.
- Request a child study evaluation. An in-home child study evaluation provides the cars with a thorough and timely assessment of your home environment. In most cases, this is conducted by a psychologist who will conduct psychological testing and interviews with both parents and the children. The psychologist will observe how the parents and the child interact with one another and with any siblings and other adults who live in the home.
- Follow all court orders. While it may be frustrating attending numerous hearings, and following the court-ordered visitation schedule, remember that these requirements are in place because the court is trying to do what is in the best interest of the children. It is important that you attend every hearing, that you arrive on time, and that you follow the rules that are in place for visitation. Be patient and do not do anything that could jeopardize your case.
- Re-evaluate your custody desires. As you take the necessary steps to regain custody of your children, consider whether you want full custody, or if you would consider sharing custody with your ex-spouse. It is important that you focus on what is best for your children, rather than prioritizing your needs and preferences. While it is normal to feel a sense of guilt by recognizing that you having sole custody is ultimately not what is best for the children, remember that you are putting their needs before your own.
Somerville Custody Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Help Clients Regain Custody of Their Children
If you lost custody of your children, or you have other custody-related questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact the Somerville custody lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. We understand how difficult these situations can be, and we will help you navigate the steps necessary to have your children returned to you if it is in their best interest. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Located in Somerville and Morristown, we serve clients throughout Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.