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Mother is fighting her own mother for custody of the child

Your Question:
I am a 25 year old mother and divorcee. I went in to a domestic violence program at a shelter. I gave my mother temporary custody on an unnotarized piece of paper and over nine months now I have been trying to get my son back and my mother refuses. I have not been able to talk to my son when I call and even when I try to go see him I have full custody of my son. Now this so called mother of mine is fighting me for custody.

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My Answer:

Thanks for writing. I asked you to provide further information (not posted), so if any readers see me referring to particular new details-- it's not because I'm clairvoyant.

I sense that you're in a situation that is largely a wildcard. On one hand, you admit that you pretty much abandoned your child due to your life struggles. On the other hand, you responsibly placed your child with a relative so you could clean up the problems in your life. Back on the first hand, one would presume you thought your mother is a good caretaker-- else you admit that you placed your child in a dangerous situation.

You were the primary caretaker for five years, but your mom has been raising the child for the past nine months. Again, these two factors can go either way, depending upon the judge.

So, what you need to do is bolster your hand as much as you can, before you head to court. You want to slam the court with as much relevant evidence and testimony as possible, so the court has no question as to your ability to raise the child for the next 12 years.

I suggest that you do all of the following:

  • Take a parenting class. You don't need to tell anyone about it at this point, but it may prove helpful to eventually show the court that you completed a parenting class. That could help ease the court's concern about you as a parent.

  • Get affadavits (written statements that are signed to be true under penalty of perjury) from all of your family members, especially the ones who know your mother. These people should discuss the bond that you and your son had for 5 years, your stability as a person, and their belief that the child would best be served in your care. It's pretty convincing if all of your family - except your mother - says that it's in the child's best interest to be with you.

  • Get affadavits from your aunt and uncle, testifying that you and your child may stay with them as long as needed; along with the issues I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

  • Get affadavits from non-family members that discuss how long they've known you, that you're a stable person, blah blah blah.

  • Enter into psychotherapy, if you haven't already. Don't tell anyone about it at this point. But it may prove helpful a few months in the future to have a therapist provide testimony that you are a stable woman with no signs of psychopathologies and with no indications that you would be a threat to your child.

  • Try to get some evidence that your mother lost custody of her children in her divorce (perhaps this can be addressed in your dad's affadavit-- as to the manipulative and controlling ways of your mother). Unfortunately, this issue is somewhat mitigated by your action to give her your child. You can't hammer that she is a bad parent because then the next question is, "Why the heck did you give her your son?"

  • If your mother claims that you use drugs (i.e., in her pleadings or in front of the court), then tell your attorney that you're willing to take drug testing that day, if your mother would do the same.

  • If your mother is making up lies about you (i.e., in her pleadings or in front of the court), tell your attorney that you're willing to undergo a polygraph examination, if your mother would do the same.

Armed with all of your affadavits, you then approach the court for sole custody of your child. I think you would be ill-advised to try to do this without an attorney. Once a judge makes a ruling, that's it. So, if you screw up, no "do over".

$10,000 sounds like a reasonable estimate for taking this to court. I don't believe it's a reasonable retainer. Most family lawyers require a retainer between $2,000 and $5,000. Read a prior post of mine HERE about attorneys.

Finally, the more time that goes by, the worse it is for your position. This should have been started many months ago, immediately when you realized what a mistake you had made. But the past is the past. Burn the midnight oil to put your case together like I outlined, while you're concurrently looking for an attorney to hire.

With regard to finances, only worry about the retainer at this point. If you get several thousand dollars in debt beyond that, many attorneys will work out payment plans or negotiate a reduced payoff amount. One of my attorneys let me to pay $200/month for 2 years to pay off my remaining debt to her-- so, there will be options. Money is the LEAST IMPORTANT THING right now, as it's something that can always be addressed later. Getting a good attorney and putting your case together are the only two missions in your life right now, because they CAN'T be addressed later.

Good luck.


This website gives common sense advice that is not intended to act as legal guidance nor psychological guidance. The author is neither an attorney nor licensed psychologist. For specific legal guidance or specific psychological guidance, consult with a licensed professional.

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