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Fathers' rights in jeopardy in foster care case involving mother

Whether you are facing divorce in Fulton County or protecting your child custody rights while you serve your country, if you're a father, you need to know that you have rights. Legally, fathers' rights (and mothers' rights) include the fundamental constitutional right to parent your children unless you are shown to be unfit to do so in a court of law. They also include the rights and responsibilities granted to you in your child custody and visitation decree.

Unfortunately, sometimes fathers' rights are violated, as seems to be the case for an Army dad from Omaha. His 13-year-old daughter was taken from her mother's custody and put into foster care in August, despite the fact that her father is available to take custody. If it seems to you that this kind of mistake is easily resolved, however, you would be wrong. Even though the father was explicitly acknowledged to be a fit parent, the judge has not ordered that his daughter be returned to him.

Here is a little background. The divorced dad is stationed in Colorado. According to the terms of the child custody decree, the mother was given primary custody and the father had visitation rights for two months during the summer. The father and daughter are said to have a loving relationship.

In April, the girl's mother was convicted of DUI and has since violated her probation. According to reports, she apparently struggles with alcohol addiction, and the child protective services case arose due to allegations that her drinking led her to leave the 13-year-old girl unsupervised overnight on a regular basis. The child was removed from her custody in August.

Despite both state and federal policies that children taken in protective services cases be placed with the other parent, if fit, the girl was initially placed with an aunt and then a family friend instead of with her father.

The Omaha Army dad is now seeking temporary custody of his daughter until his ex-wife becomes stable, at which point custody could be reevaluated. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services recommended to the court that the girl should be placed with her dad.

The juvenile court judge in the case, however, has refused to grant custody immediately, leaving the child in the care of the family friend for now. He has agreed to reconsider in 30 to 45 days once more evidence is available about the mother's progress in alcohol treatment.

Is it in the best interest of this child to remain in a family friend's home as a foster child rather than be with her dad? The father has filed for an expedited hearing in Colorado under the Interstate Compact for Placement of Children.

Source: Lincoln Journal Star, "Army dad put off again in plea for placement of daughter," JoAnne Young, Oct. 13, 2011

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