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Addiction and child custody: Why informal agreements are risky

Methamphetamine drugs don't just cause addiction and claim lives. In Nebraska, they're creating a crisis that's overwhelming the foster care system. Meth use is now behind one-third of the cases where a child is removed from a parent's care.

In many cases, the drug causes parents to simply neglect their children. Whether on a high or hungover from one, meth users become so heedless of their surroundings that they don't remember to feed their children, bathe them, clean the house, respond to crying infants or make sure that the children attend school.

In addition, kids are being exposed to the drugs. Infants are being born addicted, while young children are getting high from the residue they pick up from household objects or secondhand smoke. Teens see their parents use the drug and follow their example.

Because of these problems, it's often necessary for other family members to step up and take responsibility for the children of meth addicts in order to keep the kids out of foster care. This is true even if the parent is taking advantage of one of the many programs now available to help meth addicts beat addiction and keep (or regain) custody of their kids.

However, if you find yourself in the position of having to take over the custody of someone else's child while the parent struggles with addiction and/or recovery, it is important to go through the court to formalize the arrangement.

A formal custody order protects both you and the child involved. This is essential to get because:

  • Without a custody order in place, an informal arrangement can be terminated on a whim by the parent -- even if he or she is clearly not up to the task.
  • A parent with an addiction may use your love and concern for the child to extort you for money by threatening to take the child away.
  • You cannot enroll the child in school or get the child medical treatment without either involving the parent or lying on the necessary paperwork.
  • You could be accused of kidnapping by the parent if he or she gets angry at you for some reason.

An informal child custody agreement is always a bad idea. If you need to take over the custody of a child so that a family member can get help with addiction, get a family law attorney to help you work out the details.

Source: Live Well Nebraska, "The Meth Plague: A Two-Day Series," Martha Stoddard, Oct. 10, 2017

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