Can DHR take away one of your children but not the other one?
Updated: Feb 14
You would think that if you are fit and capable of taking care of one of your Children then you are capable of taking care of all of them. In Alabama, gauging basic fitness as a Parent in DHR cases is called “Dependency.” Believe it or not, a recent case has confirmed that a Parent was fit to take care of 2 out of his 3 children. Here’s why there’s a difference.
In the case of H.T. v. A.C., No. 2210396, 2023 WL 1487691, at *1 (Ala. Civ. App. Feb. 3, 2023), the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals reversed a trial court’s determination that a Father’s two daughters remained “dependent” but affirmed, or upheld, the trial court’s decision that the Father’s son remained “dependent.”
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The case was sent back to the trial court and the daughters are very likely to be returned to the physical custody of the Father but his son is not? What’s going on here…?
First, the son in H.T. is very young. A parent might be fit to take care of an independent, reasonably responsible 14 year old. It makes practical sense that children have different demands on a caregiver’s time, energy, and attention at different ages.
Second, the son in the case has special needs. Again, a parent who is otherwise perfectly capable and fit might be unable to care for a child with conditions that demand extra attention or unique care. Consider, for example, the author, who is a Child Custody lawyer and managing partner of his firm. The demands of my profession, serving our clients, and supporting our team would prevent me from being a custodian for a child who needed constant, specialized care unless I was able to procure significant assistance on an almost 24-hour basis.
These first two points can be summarized like this, a Parent’s fitness is not considered out of context. The specific traits and needs of the Child are considered then the Parent’s ability to meet those needs is considered.
A third consideration was that the Father had visited more often with his daughters which allowed the Court of Civil Appeals to consider as reasonable a conclusion that the Father had, in a technical sense, abandoned his son but not abandoned his daughters. So, the Parent’s demonstrated behaviors towards one child but not another can make a significant difference.
The better way to think about parental fitness is to use different terminology than just “parental fitness.”
Think “fitness for that specific Child,” and make sure that DHR and the Court are considering the unique needs, or perhaps the independence, of a specific child rather than lumping together parental fitness into the cookie cutter boxes as a large, bureaucratic government agency like DHR might be inclined to do.
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This article contains general information and should not be construed as legal advice for you and or your unique situation. ~SW, Foxtrot