I stared at the health department employee in shock. “You can’t give me my granddaughter’s birth certificate? Why? I gave you a copy of the custody agreement.”
I had suspected something was wrong when she’d glanced at the agreement and excused herself. Several minutes passed before she returned.
“This is a temporary custody agreement,” she said. “It’s over a year old. How do we know you still have custody? We need a more current agreement.”
This scenario happened last year when I needed a copy of my granddaughter’s birth certificate. We had the one her mother gave us when the children first came to live with us. She’d pulled the flimsy, falling apart document out of a wad of papers in her wallet. I doubted it would survive any change of hands when we needed to present it to someone official. I should have replaced it then, but I hadn’t needed it until this point in time.
Our temporary custody order was two years old by the time I decided to replace the birth certificate. We were not required to return to court to renew the custody order, and it was all we had. The Health Department didn’t recognize it as official because of its age. Ironically, three years earlier, as a grandmother without custody, I had obtained Victoria’s birth certificate from the same office. No problems. No questions. Because I was the grandmother.
I pointed this out.
The clerk said, “We don’t allow that anymore.”
When Victoria was 5 and Amari 18 months, they lived with us a short time. At that time, the only mistake their mother had made was getting evicted from her home. We took the children until my daughter could find a place to live. After six weeks, Amari went back to live with her. I couldn’t cover his medical costs without insurance, and he suffered from constant sinus and ear infections. Victoria, who was in kindergarten, stayed with us for five months. Luckily, she didn’t get sick often.
This time around, I made sure we had something official. I didn’t want to pay medical expenses out-of-pocket. I didn’t want to face questions of who had the right to make decisions for the children. I wanted something to prevent my daughter from taking the children back without permission. When the social worker contacted me to see if we’d take the kids, this was my stipulation–only if we have custody. She agreed it was necessary.
When we went to court a few months later, we’d already paid a hefty amount in medical bills. After that first court date, we had what we needed–proof of temporary custody. The social worker assured us that when we came back for the follow-up hearing in two months, we’d gain full custody. But, when we returned, so did our daughter. She spun a story that the judge listened to, ignoring many significant points, and the temporary order was continued. The only end to this order will occur if and when my daughter decides to pursue custody, again. The order listed requirements for her to meet first. She has never come close to meeting them, much less trying to regain custody.
Yes, I managed to get the birth certificate, but it involved calling the out-of-state court that gave us custody and talking to person after person before I found someone who could help me. A helpful clerk came up with the only thing she could think of in the absence of a new hearing–a dated and notarized print-out of the case records. It indicated nothing else had happened with the case. I shudder to think how much time I spent working on this one problem.
We’ve discussed pursuing full custody, a decision I’ve been told would not be difficult to gain. But it’s costly. Some people have recommended having the courts remove our daughter’s parental rights. Again, it’s costly. In both cases, if their mother chooses to fight the decision, the cost could double. I’ve been advised that neither of these efforts will change things. Their mother can choose at a later time to fight for custody again.
It’s not been worth the expense and headache. As our temporary custody order gets older, I fear that might change.