Steps to regain custody of your child depend on the method used to transfer temporary rights to your parents. Also, issues surrounding the custody of a minor child are governed by the family law division of state courts. The procedures for establishing custody rights vary according to state as well as local jurisdictions. It’s not something you should try without an attorney’s guidance, but it may help to understand your options.
Custody may refer to legal custody or physical custody or both. Physical custody pertains to where the child actually lives. Many grandparents assume physical custody and feed, clothe, and take care of their grandchildren. They do this when parents deploy overseas for military duty or when a parent is hospitalized due to illness. However, grandparents do not have legal custody unless they’ve gone through the court system and been awarded that by a judge. Legal custody gives parents the right to make decisions about where children live and other matters associated with their care. Parents have legal custody of their children unless a court removes that right, or the parents voluntarily give up their rights.
Informal Custody Arrangements
If your parents have temporary custody through an informal agreement that did not wind its way through the court system, you may not have relinquished any real rights to maintaining custody of your children. For instance, if you granted your parents the right to make decisions regarding your child’s care using a power of attorney (POA) document, you can revoke their authority at any time.
The POA does not relinquish your parental rights. It simply gives a responsible adult the legal authority to care for your child in your absence. You revoke POA rights by filling out a form, having it notarized, and delivering it to your parents and other interested parties. If your parents refuse to return your children to your care at that point, you must involve the courts to regain custody, which may include a hearing before a judge.
In many states, parents can willingly sign over temporary custody to grandparents by completing a temporary relative custody form. This offers solutions to parents who are unable to care for their children for a specific amount of time, such as during absences due to military service. Other reasons for temporary relative custody include parental financial difficulties and long-term hospitalizations for mental health issues or drug abuse. This action may have been completed through the child welfare system without involving the court. If so, your caseworker can explain the steps for revoking the temporary custody arrangements.
Explore Your Options
The legal issues surrounding child custody are complex, and moving through the process can be emotionally wrenching. Courts desire children to have permanent, nurturing families, and prefer to reunite parents and children whenever possible. If temporary custody was awarded to your parents through your state’s child welfare system, your caseworker may be your best ally in regaining custody.
If you released your children to your parents’ custody voluntarily due to incarceration, substance abuse or other legal issues, the courts often just want to see evidence that you’ve completed treatment or made other positive changes in your life. It’s truly vital, however, that you have legal representation during this process. An attorney can be expensive, but your state bar association or local legal aid society can refer you to attorneys in your area who offer reduced fee rates to low-income clients.