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Stepmother concerned about retaining custody

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ShemAr

Junior Member
What is the name of your state?
Maryland

In 1999, my husband's then-wife abandoned him and fled to Virginia, leaving him with two toddlers. I took his side, as a friend, after he presented me with extensive documented proof that she had been violent to him, that she had committed check fraud, that she was constantly lying, that she'd committed adultery and that she had been diagnosed bipolar. She told the friends she was taking shelter with that he physically abused her (he did not), that she had left the kids with her mother (he had them, and was staying with *his* mother), and finally, she dropped out of contact for half a year.

I moved in with him 4 months after she left, and became the primary caretaker of the children. Because his business was paying only erratically until mid-2003, I was the primary breadwinner, and because home businesses consume more attention than regular jobs even if they don't pay, I was also the person who read the bedtime stories, packed the lunches, and bandaged the boo-boos.

Since then, we have married and had another child, who the kids consider their brother (not their half-brother.) They call me Mom. They have strong relationships with my parents and my brother. The biological mother has gone for a year at a time with no contact. When she is in contact, we allow visitation every two weeks, but in early 2004 she filed a false report with the police that my husband was abusing the kids (which he was not), and we told her that we would revoke unsupervised visitation -- she would have to visit with the kids with me or him present. She promptly disappeared for over a year, and since requesting a return to regular visitation, on our terms, in June, she has only seen the kids once-- not because we won't permit it, but because she hasn't bothered. She pays a small amount of child support, as ordered by the courts, which is directly deducted from her paycheck. She does not contact the children on their birthdays or holidays unless she is physically present, not even to the extent of sending cards.

My question, and my fear, is this. My husband's will declares me the children's guardian in the event of his death. But I have been reading horror stories about how such things are overturned in favor of biological parents all the time. What can I do to ensure that, if such a terrible thing would happen, that the kids could stay in a stable situation they have lived in for six years, with their little brother, and not be torn away to go live with a woman who seems to forget they exist for months at a time? I have been thinking about the fragility of life since Hurricane Katrina, so although I have no good reason to think my husband might die, I worry about what would happen if he did.

By the way, the divorce was conducted in Maryland, which also has jurisdiction over child support. The ex lives in Virginia.
 


T

titansfan

Guest
stepmom should stay out of this or hubby could lose custody

unless the bio mom is proven unfit, she will be first in line for custody if your husband were to pass away. im sorry, but you are a stepparent with NO legal rights to the kids whatsoever. as for revoking visitation, YOU cannot revoke visitation, first of all you are not a party to it, and have NO authority to halt visitation on your own, you must ask a court to do that, or hubby could face contempt charges, and could be fined, jailed, or lose custody of the kids. the only one who has custody and can do anything legally is hubby, you can do nothing.
 

ShemAr

Junior Member
titansfan said:
unless the bio mom is proven unfit, she will be first in line for custody if your husband were to pass away. im sorry, but you are a stepparent with NO legal rights to the kids whatsoever.
I'm aware of this, but his will states that I am to be the guardian of the children. Will they completely ignore that and split up the family to give them to someone who abandoned them once, despite my husband's wishes?

If the will stating that I am legal guardian means nothing, we may *have* to declare her unfit so I can adopt, but that will be very difficult because she is charming and personable when you don't know her well, and pathological lying isn't a felony. I do not believe she *is* fit, and my husband is terrified of what she could do to these kids if she were solely responsible for them, but I am not sure my husband could get a court to agree.

as for revoking visitation, YOU cannot revoke visitation, first of all you are not a party to it, and have NO authority to halt visitation on your own, you must ask a court to do that, or hubby could face contempt charges, and could be fined, jailed, or lose custody of the kids. the only one who has custody and can do anything legally is hubby, you can do nothing.
We did not revoke visitation; we told her it would have to be supervised. She can see the kids any time she wants to, but she can't remove them from the house without one of us there. These were originally the terms in the custody agreement; over time, we relaxed them voluntarily, but no one ever went to court to get the agreement updated, so the agreement still says visitation in our home or with one of us present. (Actually, it's with my husband present, because as you say I don't have legal rights, but she and he can't stand each other so I used to do it to spare them both.) And though I say "we", these are directives coming from my husband, who has legal custody, but I am the one in contact with her, so I generally pass the information on.
 
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BelizeBreeze

Senior Member
ShemAr said:
My question, and my fear, is this. My husband's will declares me the children's guardian in the event of his death. But I have been reading horror stories about how such things are overturned in favor of biological parents all the time. What can I do to ensure that, if such a terrible thing would happen, that the kids could stay in a stable situation they have lived in for six years, with their little brother, and not be torn away to go live with a woman who seems to forget they exist for months at a time? I have been thinking about the fragility of life since Hurricane Katrina, so although I have no good reason to think my husband might die, I worry about what would happen if he did.
FIRST off, a will CAN list you as guardian however, that means nothing to a family court judge and is only for matters of Probate. There is nothing you can do to insure that the children do stay together.

The only possible way to have a chance would be to get the family court to approve a 'stand-by guardianship' now with your husband's support. This occurs in the event that your husband is ever disabled to the point of not being able to care for the children or dies.

It gives you the right to care for the children while the will gives you the right to manage any assets the children may have.
By the way, the divorce was conducted in Maryland, which also has jurisdiction over child support. The ex lives in Virginia.
this is all irrelevant.
 
T

titansfan

Guest
sorry stepmom your chances for custody are slim to none

unless you adopt the kids, you will have NO say in what happens to them if hubby were to pass away. mom would be first in line for custody, if she cant or wont assume custody, then another bio relative will be sought out.hubby cannot will the kids to anyone, he can express his preferences as to who he would like to have custody, but if mom wants custody, she would most likely get it, and there wouldnt be anything you could do about it, mom has the exclusive right to raise HER kids in the event of her ex's death. she doesnt have to let you see the kids, unless you make nice with mom you will probaly never see them again.
 
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stealth2

Under the Radar Member
ShemAr - reread BB's post and have your husband contact an attorney in that regard. That's the place to start. Good luck.
 

casa

Senior Member
ShemAr said:
What is the name of your state?
Maryland

In 1999, my husband's then-wife abandoned him and fled to Virginia, leaving him with two toddlers. I took his side, as a friend, after he presented me with extensive documented proof that she had been violent to him, that she had committed check fraud, that she was constantly lying, that she'd committed adultery and that she had been diagnosed bipolar. She told the friends she was taking shelter with that he physically abused her (he did not), that she had left the kids with her mother (he had them, and was staying with *his* mother), and finally, she dropped out of contact for half a year.

I moved in with him 4 months after she left, and became the primary caretaker of the children. Because his business was paying only erratically until mid-2003, I was the primary breadwinner, and because home businesses consume more attention than regular jobs even if they don't pay, I was also the person who read the bedtime stories, packed the lunches, and bandaged the boo-boos.

Since then, we have married and had another child, who the kids consider their brother (not their half-brother.) They call me Mom. They have strong relationships with my parents and my brother. The biological mother has gone for a year at a time with no contact. When she is in contact, we allow visitation every two weeks, but in early 2004 she filed a false report with the police that my husband was abusing the kids (which he was not), and we told her that we would revoke unsupervised visitation -- she would have to visit with the kids with me or him present. She promptly disappeared for over a year, and since requesting a return to regular visitation, on our terms, in June, she has only seen the kids once-- not because we won't permit it, but because she hasn't bothered. She pays a small amount of child support, as ordered by the courts, which is directly deducted from her paycheck. She does not contact the children on their birthdays or holidays unless she is physically present, not even to the extent of sending cards.

My question, and my fear, is this. My husband's will declares me the children's guardian in the event of his death. But I have been reading horror stories about how such things are overturned in favor of biological parents all the time. What can I do to ensure that, if such a terrible thing would happen, that the kids could stay in a stable situation they have lived in for six years, with their little brother, and not be torn away to go live with a woman who seems to forget they exist for months at a time? I have been thinking about the fragility of life since Hurricane Katrina, so although I have no good reason to think my husband might die, I worry about what would happen if he did.

By the way, the divorce was conducted in Maryland, which also has jurisdiction over child support. The ex lives in Virginia.
In addition to BBs advice, another route you can take is: Check Maryland state law's requirement for "abandonment" &/or Termination of Parental Rights. Many states consider child support 'contact', so it may or not be relevant in your case when the mother is gone for 6 months or a year at a time. If your husband could TPR and/or suceed in filing abandonment~ you could then file to legally adopt the children.
 

ShemAr

Junior Member
Thanks

BelizeBreeze said:
FIRST off, a will CAN list you as guardian however, that means nothing to a family court judge and is only for matters of Probate. There is nothing you can do to insure that the children do stay together.

The only possible way to have a chance would be to get the family court to approve a 'stand-by guardianship' now with your husband's support. This occurs in the event that your husband is ever disabled to the point of not being able to care for the children or dies.
Thanks for the advice. I was afraid of that. We'll talk to a lawyer about setting something like that up.

this is all irrelevant.
I didn't know what might be significant in terms of the laws in different states, that's all.
 

ShemAr

Junior Member
Thank you

casa said:
In addition to BBs advice, another route you can take is: Check Maryland state law's requirement for "abandonment" &/or Termination of Parental Rights. Many states consider child support 'contact', so it may or not be relevant in your case when the mother is gone for 6 months or a year at a time. If your husband could TPR and/or suceed in filing abandonment~ you could then file to legally adopt the children.
Thanks for the advice. I wish I'd looked into this sooner, because we'd have had a case in Feb, when she'd gone a year without contact and many months without support. Now she's gotten involved again, so it's not possible, unless we could prove her unfit.

Dammit, this isn't something I wanted to have to do to her. I don't blame her for being ill, and she's good to the kids the way an aunt is-- she comes up, she plays with them, she buys them toys, and leaves. She's too irresponsible to be The Mom and her pathological lying did serious psychological damage to my husband, I hate to think what it could do to an innocent kid forced to depend on a person who will invariably lie to avoid any sort of confrontation. But I didn't want to have to force her out of their lives entirely. Now I realize that the law sets it up as either/or -- we find a way to force her out, or she can break up the family if my husband dies and I'd have no legal standing to stop her.

We'll look at BB's suggestion first, but I worry that a standby guardianship could also be overriden in the case of a bio mom challenging it, or that MD law doesn't support it, or doesn't support it for people who are not terminally ill. We may have to go the way you suggest, but it will be difficult, and I didn't want to cut her out. If that's what it takes to protect my kids (and I know what the law says, but I raised them from the age of 2, so in my heart they're *my* kids), I'll do it (or, more to the point, get my husband to do it. Which he would, gleefully -- he trusts her a lot less than I do -- but I know more about psychological disorders than he does, and I know that his "evidence" of her instability, while compelling if you know them both, probably won't hold up in court.)
 

LdiJ

Senior Member
ShemAr said:
Thanks for the advice. I wish I'd looked into this sooner, because we'd have had a case in Feb, when she'd gone a year without contact and many months without support. Now she's gotten involved again, so it's not possible, unless we could prove her unfit.

Dammit, this isn't something I wanted to have to do to her. I don't blame her for being ill, and she's good to the kids the way an aunt is-- she comes up, she plays with them, she buys them toys, and leaves. She's too irresponsible to be The Mom and her pathological lying did serious psychological damage to my husband, I hate to think what it could do to an innocent kid forced to depend on a person who will invariably lie to avoid any sort of confrontation. But I didn't want to have to force her out of their lives entirely. Now I realize that the law sets it up as either/or -- we find a way to force her out, or she can break up the family if my husband dies and I'd have no legal standing to stop her.

We'll look at BB's suggestion first, but I worry that a standby guardianship could also be overriden in the case of a bio mom challenging it, or that MD law doesn't support it, or doesn't support it for people who are not terminally ill. We may have to go the way you suggest, but it will be difficult, and I didn't want to cut her out. If that's what it takes to protect my kids (and I know what the law says, but I raised them from the age of 2, so in my heart they're *my* kids), I'll do it (or, more to the point, get my husband to do it. Which he would, gleefully -- he trusts her a lot less than I do -- but I know more about psychological disorders than he does, and I know that his "evidence" of her instability, while compelling if you know them both, probably won't hold up in court.)
You are correct, standby guardianship could be overturned by a challenge from the biological parent. It might only keep the children with you temporarily.

In addition, even if mom were to be proven unfit, other biological relatives would have at least as great a chance at receiving custody as you, and perhaps much greater.

An adoption is the only sure way. If you approached mom with the option of an open adoption, where she could see them as much as she does now, but without the responsibility of child support...perhaps she would agree.
 

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