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A Look into the Life of Being In Loco Parentis

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Get a Lawyer, BUT Do Your Own Work Too

Having the status of “acting parent” or “in loco parentis” means that you have unique parental rights compared to the majority of custody cases currently in the courts today. If you choose to fight for custody, then you are challenging the foundation and biases related to biological parental rights. In Pennsvlvania, the law stipulates that you are in loco parentis after the child has lived with you for six consecutive months. The law also states that it will rule “in the best interest of the child.” Make no mistake that non-biological parent is behind the 8-ball when it comes to legal statutes. There isn’t a ton of case law regarding the status of in loco parentis, and the courts are reluctant to rule against the biological parents without just cause. It can’t just be “because you love the child”. Your case has to provide compelling reasons why the child should not be removed from your custody. I have seen several instances that indicate that the best course of action in any motion seeking custody (only where it is appropriate) is to cite emotional issues that the child is suffering or has suffered as a consequence of their situation. It’s the first thing that will make the judge pause and give consideration to. It’s also the first thing the judge will want to have evaluated. Be financially prepared for this. Psychological Evaluations and Guardian ad Litems aren’t cheap. The more information you can gather in theemotional distrubance area, the better off your case will be.  I will not discuss some insights I’ve gained as a result of my experience out of fear of jeapordizing my case, which is still ongoing, but I will tell you this. Don’t mess around. Get a good lawyer.

When I decided that I needed a lawyer, I also decided to do some of the work myself. Let’s face it, I can write. And lawyers are totally expensive. Being that I’m not rich, It doesn’t make sense to me to pay my lawyer for things I can do myself. Fortunately, I found a good lawyer who agrees. A few times he’s pointed out ways to save me money (combining multiple tasks like reading relavant documentation, discussing case law, etc. at one time instead of doing each task at individual times). I appreciate these things because they really do help cut back on my bills. Not only that, but once he’s involved in my case, it’s easier to stay on task until all of the tasks are completed, so I find that it pays off in more than one way.

Writing is a critical element to legal proceedings, and even though I’ve never written a legal brief, I can follow a format and do some of the preliminary writing myself. If you’re not a writer, you can still contribute in meaningful ways that will cut down on expenses with your lawyer. And if your lawyer has any integrity, they will agree to and encourage your participation at whatever level you’re at. 

First, get organized. Get all of your documentation items together, and create separate file folders that you can hand to your attorney. In addition to this, I put a picture of Matthew on the top folder, as a reminder to my lawyer that the future of real live living human being is depending on him to do a good job. I don’t care what anyone says, it’s personal.  The file folders can be organized any way you see fit, but here are a couple of good folder labels:

  • Case Overview
  • School Documents
  • Psychological Assessments/Counseling Summeries (any documentation  relating to mental health)
  • Issues and written agreements with Biological Parent(s)
  • Court Papers (filings, notices. rulings)
  • Visitation history (printed from an Excel spreadsheet document)
  • Case Law - in your state

Another thing you can do is put together an outline or list of bullet points for a variety of areas in the case (this would go in the Case Overview folder). Important bullets points would include:

  • Emotional issues that the child has suffered or been treated for (include if the child is still receiving these services).
    • List all diagnoses and assessment results
    • Social skills assessment
    • List all recommendations provided by professionals
    • Observations of the child’s emotional stability as you’ve witnessed. Give the facts, but leave out the flowery or personally emotional embellishments.
  • School
    • Grades (for each quarter of each year)
    • Behavior issues (may coincide with emotional issues listed above)
    • Learning disabilities (include assessments and recommendations)
    • Copies of IEPs (Individual Education Plans) for each school year
    • Report cards and IEP evaluation reports
  • Medical Issues
    • If your child has any medical issues, these should included with the diagnosis, treatment and any other recommendations
    • Harm to child - any issues that involved the biological parents harming the child should be documented. Include photos of injuries when possible.
  • Concerns about Biological Parents
    • Reasons for relinquishing parental responsibilities
    • Pertinent historic facts relating to safety, emotional stability, work history and general environment
    •  Child’s reaction to and about parents (relating to if the child has been waiting in limbo for the parents to come back, if the child has expressed anger or sadness about the parent, what the child’s views of the parent are). It’s very normal for children to hold out hope that their parents are coming back for them, so be honest and up front about this with your lawyer (and yourself).
  • Your background with the child
    • How you came to be in loco parentis - the age of the child then, how many years the child has been with you, etc.(keep it brief, lawyers don’t read for free)
    • Your relationship with the child (have you bonded?)
    • Any changes that the child has made while in your custody (hopefully these will be good changes that can be cited when your case is argued). Important changes to note  include improved grades, mastery in IEP objectives, imrproved socials skills,

The more you can do to assist your lawyer, the more solid your case will be, and the less it will cost you. It’s really a win-win proposition. I was very up- front with my lawyer about money (and the fact that I don’t have a lot of it), and I’m glad that he has the integrity to work with me as a partner in my mission rather than trying to milk me for every dime he can get. On the flip-side, I didn’t ask him for a break and then expect him to do what I can do. Even though my case hasn’t been settled, I am very happy with the work my lawyer has done, the cooperation he’s extended to me, and the overall status of the case. And  I should be happy since I’m winning!

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Standing in place of the parent, or acting parent, or "in loco parentis" is a big job that comes with a unique set challenges. I created this blog to share my story and my experiences with those who find themselves in a similiar situation. I look forward to hearing your comments!

The expenses do add up, so if you’d like to pitch in, please feel free to donate a few bucks. I really appreciate your generosity!

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