How do I get custody of my kids now that I'm out of jail?

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Question:

I lost custody of my three children in 1997 because I was in jail for bad checks. Now I would like to regain custody of the children and can't afford a lawyer. What should I do?

Answer:

As you are finding out the hardest way, regaining custody of children can be a lot more difficult than most people expect. Every state has a system both for removing and restoring children from a parent's custody.

As a general rule, the agency responsible for these decisions -- usually called Child Protective Services or some similar moniker -- has a legal duty to help reunite families such as yours. But the agency also has a duty to act in the best interests of the children. If staffers at the agency have become convinced that you don't have it in you to be a good parent, they may well expend very little effort trying to reunite you with your children. This leaves it up to you to force the agency to perform its job.

A lawyer could help you sort out what your rights are and how you might best get your kids back. If you can scrape together enough money for a consultation with a lawyer who specializes in this type of law, it would be well worth the scraping.

In addition, you should sit down with an agency representative and make sure you understand what behavior on your part would make it more likely that you'll get your kids back. Once you have that information, the hard part begins: walking the line laid down by people who you may feel are against you. But in the long run, helping the agency change its attitude toward you as a parent is your single best strategy. This of course means staying out of jail, being willing to attend parenting classes, reliably showing up on time for whatever visits you have and asking agency personnel for help when you need it.

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