In CINA cases, the goal is generally to return to the parent from whom the child was removed. That means that even if the children are removed from mom and placed with (noncustodial) dad, the goal is still to return to mom. Because of that, many non-custodial dads are reluctant to fully engage in the services DHS is requesting; the thinking is, “why bother, when they’re just going to return the kids to mom?” This is often true whether the kids are placed with the noncustodial parent or not. However, this position ignores a very real possibility—that mom will not be able to safely reunify with her kids. In that case, the court first looks to the noncustodial parent for placement and, ultimately, permanency. That’s harder if the noncustodial parent has just been “skating” along, doing the bare minimum.
Sometimes the reunification can’t take place because the custodial parent relapses. But I have also seen cases where the custodial parent dies of an overdose. These can happen unexpectedly, so no matter how well the custodial parent seems to be doing, I always encourage my non-custodial parent clients to do what they’re asked to do. If they don’t, they are also at risk of having their parental rights terminated if the custodial parent is unable to reunify.
Even if the court does not go right to TPR (termination of parental rights), the noncustodial parent now has a much steeper climb. S/he has to explain to the court why s/he didn’t do anything all along. And the excuse, “I didn’t think this would happen. I thought they would go back to [custodial parent]” doesn’t fly with most judges. They want both parents to be actively engaged in the case. The more consistent you are in engaging in those services, the more comfortable the court is in placing the kids with you. You will have a longer history of demonstrating to the court that you are a safe and appropriate placement for your child.
So if you are a noncustodial parent, please do the things the court and DHS are asking you to do right from the start—even if you don’t think the child(ren) will be coming to you. These cases are unpredictable, and you never know what might happen, even at the end. As the saying goes, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
And—the things they are asking you to do will only strengthen your parenting skills and relationship with your child. Why wouldn’tyou do that?