Fit Father Stands in Custody Line Behind Aunt, Foster Care

Let’s say you’re a fit father.  You serve in the United States Army and your 13-year-old daughter spends a happy two months with you every summer and the rest of the time with her mom from whom you’re divorced. 

Then, your ex’s alcohol addiction gets the better of her.  She’s on probation for DUI and violates it by getting another DUI.  Eventually, due to her dangerous and illegal driving and her alcohol addiction, Child Protective Services determines she’s a danger to your daughter and takes the girl from her.  You, being the fit, caring dad you are, move immediately for custody.  But what do you do then?

This article answers that question (Lincoln Journal Star, 10/13/11).  And the answer is… you get in the custody line behind one of your daughter’s aunts and a local foster home.

A Douglas County Juvenile Court judge on Thursday allowed a dad stationed with the Army in Colorado to become a participant in his daughter’s foster care case.

But while acknowledging the father appeared to be a fit parent and that no home study would be required, Judge Christopher Kelly delayed any chance of Sgt. David Sanders getting temporary custody of his 13-year-old daughter for 30 to 45 days.

At that time, the judge said, he will hear evidence about the Omaha mother’s situation. He said he had been told she was cooperating and getting counseling, but he had no evidence of that.

Leslie Christensen, Sanders’ attorney, said the father should not have to wait 30 to 45 days — if that’s what the judge’s order indicates — for his constitutional rights to take effect.

Sanders’ attempts to get temporary custody of his daughter have been stymied since she was taken from her mother’s home in August, despite federal and state policies that give placement preference in such cases to fit, noncustodial parents.

The girl first was placed with an aunt, but soon after she became a state ward and was placed with a friend’s family.

So Sanders has been trying to get custody of his daughter whom he loves dearly and for whom he cares at least two months out of the year.  No one questions his fitness as a parent or his desire to be his daughter’s custodial parent.  But he’s already waited over six weeks and now he has to wait another 4 – 6 weeks.

Why?  To see if the mother’s alcohol addiction problem improves, so that the girl can be returned to her.  Meanwhile she remains not in Dad’s care, but in foster care.  That’s right, the court decided that a fit father’s right to custody of his daughter should simply be put on hold to see if there’s any way he can be denied it for the long term.  And of course the person to whom the court is so avid to give custody is the alcohol-addicted mother. 

On the topic of Mom’s alcohol addiction, here’s what academic and former deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy has to say about drug and alcohol addiction, as quoted by The New Yorkermagazine.  After pointing out that  the substances produce permanent changes in the brain’s neuronal circuitry, Thomas McLellan said, “Addiction is a disease you have for which there is no cure, and which fits the model of chronic illness.  It will be a problem for the rest of your life.  So you don’t want a thirty-day program.  It won’t help.”

Judge Kelly hopes it will.  In the meantime, foster care, to the court, is preferable to father care.

This is a case in which the Interstate Compact on Child Placement comes into play.  That’s because Sanders is stationed in Colorado and his ex, Shannon Peebles, lives in Nebraska.  So the Interstate Compact requires that an investigation be done of the out-of-state person with whom the child is proposed to be placed.  Except (a) several states have ruled that, when the placement is to be with a child’s parent, no investigation needs to be done and more importantly, (b) Judge Kelly has already ruled that Sanders is fit to care for his daughter and so there’s no need for an investigation.

And still Sanders takes a back seat to strangers, i.e. a foster home.

I wrote recently about two Maryland fathers, Sam Wilson and Andre Adgerson, who’ve sued the District of Columbia’s child welfare agency for its flagrantly anti-father and apparently illegal reading of the Interstate Compact.  They were denied custody of their children when they were taken from their mothers for six and one month respectively.  That was because the District believes that the standard out-of-state evaluation needed to be performed.  The District may well be wrong on that count, but at least it has a fig leaf to cover its disregard of fathers’ and children’s rights.

The court in Sanders’ case has no such fig leaf.  Its naked violation of Sanders’ parental rights is clear for all to see. 

The matter should be simple; the mother’s fitness is in serious enough doubt that CPS removed the girl from her care.  Sanders is her father and his fitness is in no doubt, as the court found.  Therefore he should have custody of the girl and the mother should pay him child support.  If she wants primary custody, or some form of joint custody, she should go to court and make her case and see what the judge decides. 

But no.  This decent father must go to juvenile court, hat in hand, and plead his case on an equal footing with foster parents his daughter had never set eyes on six weeks ago.

My guess is that he’ll never get the opportunity.  After all, why would a judge make all the findings Judge Kelly made and then delay everything for 30 – 45 days?  I’d say the answer is that Kelly desperately wants to return the girl to her alcoholic mother and hopes someone at the rehab facility will give him testimony that Peebles has dried out and all is well.  I can’t think of any other explanation.

Whatever happens, the case is pretty stark proof of the second – no third, no fourth – class status fathers are accorded by family courts.  Sanders stands behind his alcoholic ex-wife, her sister and some strangers who run a foster home. 

The case is disgraceful.  It’s also enlightening.  It’s about as clear proof as you can get of what family courts think of fathers.

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