In 2013, 2.7 million minor children in the U.S. had at least one parent in prison, a situation that puts unbearable stress on families. If you or a loved one faces incarceration, understand that being imprisoned does not terminate parental rights. You should consult an attorney well-versed in family law to help you navigate the delicate process of protecting your child while exploring your legal options.
Obviously, inmates cannot have physical custody of their children, with the exception of those enrolled in special programs for mothers of newborns. While in prison, you may maintain at least shared legal custody of your offspring. You need to have enough contact with the other parent and your children to contribute in a meaningful way to their upbringing. In many cases, you will be able to have this consistent communication with your children, so your opinions on schooling, religion, and medical matters will still be valuable.
You will probably retain your rights to reasonable visitation with your kids. Even if you have no custody rights, you are usually granted visitation when authorities deem it in the "best interest of the child." Prisons are by nature grim, and for some children, visiting their parents may prove to be too stressful, often depending on whether the penal institution is somewhat "child-friendly." In some instances, children may be excused from any sort of visitation plan.
Termination of Parental Rights
You may fear that you will lose custody of your children, and in some cases, you might. When a child has been in foster care for too long, the Adoption and Safe Families Act kicks in. If a child has been in foster care for 17 of the previous 22 months, the states must terminate parental rights or lose federal funding. A 2013 survey found that 17% of incarcerated mothers had lost their parental rights while in prison. Keeping your child out of foster care and with a family member or the other parent will help keep this tragedy from occurring.
Balancing the best interests of you and your children is a difficult business; however, you can retain your parental rights while in prison. If possible, consult a family lawyer, like Deborah L Kenney Attorney At Law, before you begin serving your time to set up a reasonable visitation schedule. Plan with family members how best to stay in regular contact with your children. Also, remember that your job as a parent is to always do what is best for your child.
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