I first met Kevin one April morning in 1999. He looked around 30. He wore khaki slacks, a tie and jacket, and a look of quiet determination.
I hope you can help me," he said. "I'm worried sick about my four-year-old daughter, Megan. She lives with her mother, Linda, who's drunk most of the time and has different guys in and out of her place with drugs and who knows what. Megan's dressed in rags, not getting regular meals, and the whole place is filthy and smells of garbage. And I can't even go near there on account of a restraining order."
"Tell me how this all started," I said.
"Six years ago, I met Linda and moved in with her," Kevin said. "We were both drinking. It was a bad scene, but somehow we fed into each other. Two years later Megan came along. We both loved her, but looking back, I can see we were not fit parents. Those were my rock-bottom years."
"Then one day, just after Megan's first birthday, the cops stopped Linda. She was driving drunk with Megan in the back. The cops called DCYF, who took Megan away. The judge found neglect, and ordered Megan placed with Linda's mother. Linda blamed it all on me and threw me out. Then she got this restraining order so I couldn't contact her or her mom. There was no way for me to see Megan unless I wanted to get arrested."
A judge's wake-up call
Over the months that followed, the Court held regular review hearings with the parties, their extended families, and the Department of Children, Youth, and Families. Kevin lived with a series of friends and worked odd jobs. "I tried several times to stop drinking," he said. "It was tough. Then at this one hearing when Megan was two and a half, the Judge told me and Linda to stand up. He said the court would be closing the case soon, and we each had a choice to make. Get sober, or lose our daughter forever."
"I didn't sleep at all that night," Kevin said. "But the next day I made a decision that changed my life. I knew Megan was the most important thing in my life. I decided I would be a father for her. And I decided I would get her back."
"I called my brother and asked for help. He runs the family produce business our dad started years ago, and we made a deal. I quit drinking and started going to AA meetings every day. He gave me a job at the market, stacking fruit, and he let me come stay with him and his wife and kids."
"But Linda stopped drinking too, and DCYF recommended she get Megan. The Judge went along, and the restraining order stayed in effect. So I still couldn't see Megan, except a few times when my sister-in-law managed to set it up with Linda."
Soon after DCYF closed the case, Linda resumed abusing alcohol. Kevin learned from acquaintances that Linda was allowing unrelated men to stay overnight in her home, that she was drinking with these men, and that there was drug use in the home. Linda even worked out an arrangement with her mother to phone each afternoon at about the time Megan awoke from her nap. Linda was usually passed out in a drunken stupor at that time, and the call was intended to wake her up. If she didn't answer, her mother would come over to wake her and sometimes take Megan for the night while Linda slept it off.
The emergency petition
Kevin had every reason to be distressed over Megan's safety and what she might be learning in such a setting. After consultation, we decided we had to go to Court that day to seek an emergency order changing custody to Kevin. Kevin worked with us to prepare an ex parte petition for filing with the court. When it was ready, he reviewed it for accuracy, signed it under oath, and went with me to court to file it.
At the court, we presented our petition to the Clerk's Office. They took it upstairs for review by a judge. We waited more than an hour, then learned the judge would not rule that day on such a serious matter. Instead, he scheduled a hearing the following week. As we left the courthouse, we arranged for the Sheriff to serve Megan's mother with notice of the hearing and a copy of our petition.
Before the hearing, Kevin and I prepared our case. We reviewed all the facts and obtained police reports of incidents that had occurred at Linda's home. We also gathered evidence concerning Linda's and Kevin's respective fitness as parents.
At the hearing, Kevin and I presented our case. We described the conditions in which Megan was living and introduced evidence that a recent male visitor had left illegal drugs where a child could find them. We also introduced evidence that Kevin was ready and fit to care for Megan. Linda had come to Court with friends but was unable to rebut our allegations.
A child's rescue
At the end of the hearing, the judge issued an Order from the bench, which is unusual. He granted our motion for immediate change of custody to Kevin. With help from local police we were able to transfer Megan to her father that afternoon. A few days later we arranged for Kevin's brother and his wife to pick up Megan's clothing and toys.
Linda was granted supervised visitation at a local visitation center, but has not maintained consistent contact with her daughter in the years since that hearing.
Because we were aware of certain indications that the deplorable conditions in which Megan had been living had left her fearful and insecure, we recommended a counselor for her and advised Kevin to make an appointment. Megan was in counseling for about a year. She has adjusted well to the changes in her life and is now a healthy and happy child.
Kevin has remained sober and moved on with his life. He has advanced to assistant manager at the produce market and married a woman he respects. And recently Kevin and his wife bought a house for themselves and Megan.
Kevin's determination to be a father for his child helped him turn his life around. And effective legal representation helped him rescue his daughter from an unfit home and build a better future for both of them.