Don’t relinquish custody for an extensive period of time
Life happens, and sometimes it becomes necessary for a parent to give up custody of the children for a period of time. Illness, family issues, work emergencies, and other personal developments may make it necessary for a biological parent to relinquish custody of the children to the other biological parent or to a family relative or a close friend. When this happens, the parties often sign an agreement (or a notarized statement) providing that the biological parent who is giving up custody is doing so only temporarily.
Unfortunately, in many cases, the temporary transfer of custody stretches out over months or years. When the biological parent then attempts to take back the children, the other party often forgets (or disavows) the agreement they signed and refuses to return the children. Indeed, the other party often argues that the kids are now situated in their new environment: they have new schools, new friends, new sports teams, new doctors, new regimens, and it would be contrary to their best interests to move them.
And frankly, the other party makes a good argument. Therefore, any parent who has a personal crisis that requires him or her to relinquish custody for a period of time should follow these steps:
- First, think twice about what you’re doing. Is there another way to deal with your emergency or your personal situation without transferring custody?
- If you decide to relinquish custody, do so for only a very short period of time. Specify exactly what the period of time will be in your written agreement, and stick to it. Whatever you need to do to clear up your personal issues must be accomplished within the specified time period. Do not extend the time frame for any reason.
- Include an arrangement by which you remain in daily phone contact with the children, and if appropriate under the circumstances, that you visit with them regularly as well.
- Except in the most extreme cases, try to avoid enrolling the children in new schools, signing them up for new club membership or new team sports, or switching doctors and dentists. Make every effort to maintain the status quo for the children, even while the substitute caregiver will be assuming the role of custodial parent. The children should be able to return to their former living arrangement without “switching back” to their former schools, teams, and so forth.
Relinquishing custody for any length of time is a dangerous move because it suggests that the custodial parent is unfit for the job, or that she has problems too substantial to handle while caring for minor children. But if it’s necessary, choose the person to whom you relinquish custody and follow the steps above, to ensure that you won’t be fighting to get your kids back when the situation improves.