Foster Care and Termination of Parental Rights/Rock and a Hard Place - Parental Rights
Sorry if this is a bit long. I'm actually writing for a friend of mine who is beside herself on what to do in her situation.
Back story - When her granddaughter was a baby her dad abused her (shaken) and threatened the mother. He was arrested, but the charges ended up being dropped. (not sure how that happened). During that time his father (grandfather) and her became the legal guardians. The mother didn't want her, and the father was still fighting with the courts over the abuse charges towards the mother.
Neither parent has ever stepped back up to take care of the child, who is now a teenager. The mother now has 2 more kids, but does not bother to call her 1st child even on holidays. She does pay small amounts of child support.
The dad will call once in a while (usually the grandfather will have called his son, and then make him talk to the granddaughter). He however would not pay his child support, and now that the government started to garnish his wages and tax refunds he has his dad pull the money out and send it back to him (so it looks like it was paid when it really wasnt).
What is happening above was one of the reasons my friend is now separated from her husband (and has been for 3 years, not yet divorced).
The reason she is afraid to finalize the divorce is that she is the one taking care of the granddaughter 24/7 (the grandfather lives in a different residence and only visits once a week), but she does not have any blood ties to her. She is worried with the divorce that the granddaughter would end up in the care of her father or the care of grandfather. Neither are fit to parent a teenage girl (the father especially because he still has anger and abuse problems).
My friend no longer has a job, and is living off retirement and social security and without the child support barely has enough to make ends meet, but they manage. She recently found out that the father is getting a big tax return because he called and threatened her saying she had to send it back to him because he needed it for his bills. If she doesn't he will have his dad cancel the child support card and report it stolen (it is in the grandfathers name).
She has tried asking both parents to relinquish their rights (and therefore not have to pay child support) that way she can become the sole guardian. The father refused because he does not like her, and the mother refuses because the father does (she won't give up her rights if it chances that the granddaughter will end up in the fathers care)
Yet neither of them really support the child. The grandfather is not around anymore though he is the blood relative. She is left to take care of her 24/7 without any assistance, yet she can't apply for any help because the government says she receives child support when in fact the grandfather sends it back to his son.
She just seems so stuck. She does not have the money for a long court battle. She is worried about what will happen to her granddaughter is she was to report was is going on or fight it (that she would end up in the care of her father). Yet she has to claim the child support as income even though she isn't actually getting much. (She does get some from the mother, but it is very small, $20-$40 a month or sometime none if she is unemployed).
Do you have any advice on what she can do in this situation without causing to much drama affecting the child?
This really is a tough situation. Here is what I know.
A Non-Blood Relative CAN become the sole guardian of a child, however there are more rules and restrictions that apply. those rules vary from state to state. Now if this were to go to court the entire welfare of the child would be brought into question. The Father's, Mother's, Grandfather's and your friends capability to take care of the child would be examined. They would go over each ones financial situation, home stability, and the amount of involvement each person has with the child.
Your friend is retired and living on social security. Social Security may have an added monetary amount if they find that she is taking care of a minor child. All personal issues would become present in a court case including the separation of your friend from the biological grandfather.
If she chooses to go this route and go for a court proceeding she will need a strong case. She should try to get documents showing that the grandfather is sending all the child support back to the father, if she can prove that then that discredits the father and the grandfather. Also if she has anything that shows in writing how infrequent contact is made by the parents to the child that will help.
As your friend is the primary care taker of the child anything that shows how involved she is in her granddaughters life is good evidence that will work in her favor. I do not know much about divorce situations but i believe it would be ok for her to finalize her divorce.
My best advice is to think over the information I have given you and to have her reach out to a social worker in the area who knows more about your state laws. Also if possible try to see if the state will put the child in therapy. The point of the therapy is for the child to get her say in the matter and for an expert to make observations that will help in a court case.
I wish your friend the best of luck,
I hope everything turns out for the better.