Seperate Households…Same Family

From Deseret News

Davis and Baton are almost seven years into shared parenting in the wake of divorce, which makes them both trendy and unusual. Shared parenting is growing in popularity — several states already have laws creating a presumption that children will be raised by both parents post-breakup, and 20 state legislatures considered such laws last year, with varying results, although a presumption of shared parenting is very rare. Only 17 percent of custody cases result in shared parenting, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

What is shared parenting? Wikipedia defines it as a collaborative arrangement in child custody or divorce determinations in which both parents have the right and responsibility of being actively involved in the raising of the child(ren).” This means each parent gets the opportunity to participate in the daily lives of their children by staying cordial with their ex and, sometimes, even their ex’s family and friend groups. As you can see by the paragraph above, this way of collaboration is slowly becoming law as well. In fact, the state of Ohio has released a guide to help families establish this practice. The index reads as follows…

Shared ParentingYet, in many CASA cases, this can be a sticking point. Why is that? Because when parents are separated but both available to complete services, either one of their homes can be considered’home’. Therefore, at one time, both parents can be working toward a ‘Return Home’ goal. New CASAs often ask, “Does this mean its a race to see who can complete services faster?” Like in nearly every grey area question the answer is “Sometimes.”

Remember, kids who are served by CASAs typically don’t have one appropriate parent. If they did the children would be living with that parent (or placed with the appropriate parent at the intervention of DCFS). The children who end up in the system have two parents who have been deemed unfit to care for them. Let’s consider these examples. Can you tell us which case would require a CASA?

*Family 1- DCFS is called when Ava, a two year old minor, is found wandering outside her home. DCFS receives the call from a driver who, passing by the house on the 45 mph road, is concerned that the child could wander into traffic as he/she did not see a supervising adult outside. When DCFS responds Ava’s mother, who has primary care of her, is found inebriated. She states that Ava is frequently allowed to wander outside but knows to return when it starts to get dark. Ava’s father, who sees her every other weekend and on Wednesdays, is Hector. Hector has petitioned the courts in their Family case previously for full custody of Ava, as he has had some concerns that her mother is not appropriate. Hector stated that he has never seen Ava’s mother be intoxicated around their child firsthand but has had concerns about Ava’s complaints that her mother sleeps all the time and cannot be woken. He pays child support for Ava and is employed. He has never resided full time with Ava and lives with a girlfriend and her one year old son.

*Family 2- DCFS receives a call from a concerned teacher stating that, after being absent for some time, sixteen year old Karl returns to school with a bruise on his face. When asked what happened Karl stated that he ran away from home and, when he returned a few days later, his father physically punished him. With further inquiry it is revealed that Karl has bruises to his back and arms as well. Karl stated that he knows he deserved such punishment, as his father was so worried about him when he ran away. Karl’s mother has just been released from prison for a drug trafficking charge. She has a history of incarceration for drug related offenses, and Karl has only been able to visit her once or twice in the past three years. She is out, stated she has a stable home, but has not engaged in substance abuse services as of yet.

Family 1 would not need court intervention, so long as the father has no previous indications on record and was able to provide an appropriate environment for Ava. In fact, he may take Ava and be referred for intact family services so that the Department could monitor Ava’s transition and provide any counseling/developmental screening as necessary. CASA does not get involved with intact services so long as the parents are compliant with the Department.

In case 2 however, it is likely that the courts would become involved since neither parent would be able to provide an appropriate home for Karl. Karl may wind up in traditional foster care or be placed with a relative/fictive kin. Both Karl’s parents would be given the ‘Return Home’ goal and both be provided services to achieve that goal. Karl would only have to reunite with one of them to consider this goal achieved.

So what happens once the case closes? Do the parents practice shared parenting? Honestly, CASA would not know. Some cases end up in Family Court where a judge can help them decide custody/visit arrangements. Some cases close and visitation with the other parent is left up to the custodial parent. If, say in Karl’s case, he is returned to his mother and his father never participates in services and, at case closure, is still adamant that Karl “was asking for it” perhaps Karl would not be permitted to see his father until he reaches adulthood. While CASA could advocate for continuing visits while the case remained open, anything other than that is outside the scope of the CASA role. Once the case is closed the family is on their own to make time sharing decisions.

*These cases and all examples used for this blog are fictional. Boone County CASA does not and cannot share filed case information with non-party sources.

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