A Florida grandmother is fighting to keep the grandchildren she’s raised for nearly a dozen years after a judge gave custody to their father, who lives in Indiana and has not been part of their daily lives. Their parents relinquished custody in 2007.
The maternal grandmother took custody of the children, now ages 13 and 12, when the kids were babies. She said she didn’t hesitate to do so when it was clear the children needed a stable environment. Hers is the only household the kids have known.
But a year ago this week – just two days after Christmas – the woman received notification that their father wanted custody. She wasn’t worried.
“Everybody kept saying I had it in the bag, because I had them for 12 years,” she told First Coast News. “I thought, ‘I don’t need an attorney. I just go in there and present myself the best I could.’ It backfired.”
A judge ruled against her and in late September awarded full custody to their father. The father agreed to give time for the children to adjust to the notion of moving, but when it didn’t happen fast enough for him, he filed for an emergency order, so he could pick them up.
They don’t want to go, according to the news outlet. They never have spent a night in their dad’s home. A therapist who has been working with him told the court it would be in the best interest of the children to stay with their grandparents.
They are still in Florida because of this snag: The parents’ divorce agreement stated the children were to live with their grandmother and that “neither parent shall remove the children from the state” unless both parents agree.
Their birth mother has not agreed with her ex-husband’s request.
When the judge made the order on Sept. 26, he said this to the grandmother: “Nobody’s questioning that the children are probably bonded to you. [But] there is a parental preference in the state of Florida.”
In short, the grandmother has no parental rights. She has reached out to her local state senator in an effort to drum up support for a law change to give some rights to custodial grandparents.
Any adult given custody of a child needs assistance from an attorney experienced in child custody when a challenge arises. This well-meaning grandmother could have benefited from representation.