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Stepmom wants to know if mother's alleged welfare fraud is grounds for custody change

Your Question:
First, I would just like to say that I am grateful to have come across this site and I find your abrupt and honest answers to be very refreshing.

I am a concerned stepmom. My husband has joint custody of his six-year-old son with his ex-girlfriend. For some time now, we have become increasingly concerned with the mother's abilities to properly parent and provide a stable lifestyle for my stepson. We are aware that her and her boyfriend do drugs and throw parties, frequently move and switch my stepson's school and do not keep a clean living environment, among other things.

My husband and I have approached the idea of attempting to obtain custody of my stepson but have been uncertain of whether or not we have enough evidence to prove his mother unfit.

A few days ago my stepson's mother called and spoke with me over the phone. She was upset and admitted to me that she has been lying to the Department of Health and Human Services about the fact that my husband regularly sees his son. She has been telling them that he does not see his son at all, so they consider my stepson a "deprived" child, which allows her to receive a benefit of over $400.00 a month because of this. During a review with her case workers from DHHS, she slipped and told them that my husband sees his son every other weekend. They threatened to "take everything away" from her and she was frantic, saying that the money is her livelihood and it's how she pays for everything, even her gas. Oh, I suppose I should now mention that neither the mother nor her boyfriend have jobs and my husband pays his child support faithfully every month.

The mother also admitted to me that her boyfriend, whom she lives with and has an infant with is not supposed to be living with her because she has been lying to DHHS about him seeing their child as well, in order to receive this cash benefit. She said that the department may be sending a letter to my husband in the mail, inquiring whether or not he sees his child and asked if he would simply lie and say he does not see his son and sign the paper so she can continue stealing from the government.

Now, to finally lead into my question... It has been several days now and I have not seen a letter. Should it ever arrive, my husband intends to sign it honestly. However, if the letter never arrives, I am wondering if it would be in our best interest to contact DHHS and inform them of the motherís fraudulent activities and if she were to be charged with welfare fraud, might that aid us in our attempt to gain custody of my stepson? Thank you so much for your time.

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My Answer:

I think that getting involved in the mother's fraudulent activities is a decision you should discuss with a family law attorney. If it turns out there's no truth to it, and if the mother suffers hardship during a probe/audit, you'll potentially be liable for damages. Further, it's something she'll be bringing up in family court for the next 12 years.

If it turns out that she gets convicted and sentenced to jail, is it acting in the child's best interest if the father was the one who essentially put the mother in jail?

On the other hand, if the mother is in jail, the father would have a strong argument to modify custody, since she can't be a parent from jail.

This is why you need to have a serious discussion with an attorney about how to move forward.

I agree, however, that if your husband gets a letter from a state department, it's in his interest to answer it truthfully. Else, he becomes an accessory to fraud. So, he has no choice in that matter, if HE is contacted by them.

It seems to me that you may be pursuing the wrong avenue.

If the mother frequently hosts parties, does drugs, and moves frequently (i.e., more than twice a year for several years), that home is not suitable to have the lion's share of custodial time for a six year old child.

I suggest you figure out how to build your case to document those things. Hiring a private investigator is one option. Gathering the multiple school records and evidence of the multiple living places is another avenue.

At the same time, the assumption is that you and the father are squeaky clean, have a stable home, and don't have issues with drugs, alcohol, abuse, crime, or violence.

Build your case effectively on what matters, then go for a custody change. The welfare fraud should not be the kingpin, however.

The welfare fraud may speak to a character issue, but it doesn't necessarily show that a parent is a poor parent. If she only gets a small fine and a slap on the wrists, then your entire case would be blown. Plenty of parents break the law (speeding, shoplifting, insurance fraud, varying degrees of tax evasion, failing to report "under the table" income)... and it doesn't make them bad parents.

If you're not sure how to build a strong case, get the book "Child Custody A to Z" by Guy White. That would be a great guide for you, as it focuses on evidence and strategy. It's on my Recommended Books page.


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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