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Ask E. Jean For DearSugar: What Are My Rights?

Dear E. Jean.

I write this and I don't know where to start or end, because it seems it’s gone on forever and I'm afraid of how it might end. I have a stepdaughter that I love like she were my very own. She has been in my life since she was born. She is now a very confused 24 year old.

Her own mother is and has been heavily involved with drugs my daughter’s whole life. After many attempts over the years, my husband and I finally got full custody of her at 10 years old. I thought and prayed we got her in time, but by the time she was 13 it all started coming out: Now we can't believe anything she says; she lies constantly and steals from us.

We have tried to get her in counseling, I’d make the appointments and she would not show up. She gets fired from most of her jobs. She hangs out with some very scary, druggy people. She’s almost gone to prison for a felony and managed to get out of it. She was raped at gun point twice and she still won’t stop.

If all this is not frightening enough, she now has a three-and-half-year-old son. She does not know who the father is. She slaps the child in the mouth, berates him for everything he does. If he’s being quiet she will agitate him till he fusses, puts him in timeout, and then harasses him the whole time.

I keep trying to talk to her about it. She won’t listen. Luckily she leaves him with us six or seven days a week. We pay for daycare. We buy all his clothes and we feel like he is our child. Sometimes she won’t call or see him for a week and then out of the blue she wants him overnight. He cries and says he doesn't want to go.

She has no patience with him and he’s such a sweet, smart little boy! He has an uncanny knack of reading people. I’ve spoken with a child psychologist and asked what the chances are of getting custody. He said the court would probably not take her parental rights away, and that they would merely recommend parenting classes.

The last time we tried to intervene, she took the child away from us for a week! He acted like a different boy when he came home. We can't risk putting him jeopardy. At this point we have him most of the time and I feel blessed about that, but I'm so afraid of what goes on when he’s with her and her friends. We don't have the money to hire a good attorney and I have looked in to hiring a PI; we couldn't afford that either. We feel stuck. All we want is to protect him before something worse happens. Any advise will be welcomed. — Aching Heart

To see E. Jean's answer,


My Dear Aching Heart,

I’ve contacted the celebrated defense attorney and child custody expert, A.J. Reiber, in Indianapolis. (This is the closest big city to you.) Mr. Reiber, believes that there may be a “cause of action available which would allow the court to find that (you and your husband) are de facto custodians and thereby award (you) custody.” Mr. Reiber added:

At the same time, we should address the issue of possible supervised parenting time with the mother.

Mr. Reiber has agreed to discuss the matter with you pro bono. When you’re an old advice columnist like Auntie Eee, you soon come to realize that rarely does anyone step forward with any genuine help, let alone do it for free. Thank you, Mr. Reiber!

That said, as soon as I read your letter, I called you (as you know) and hearing your lovely voice, listening to the wonderful stories about your grandson, and feeling your alarm and fear that your daughter may harm him . . . the dilemma became clear. You are presented with two options:

Keep the Status Quo: The child lives with you six or seven days a week. For all intents and purposes, he’s living with you. Ergo, you already have custody of him.
Or, Get the Courts Involved and Try to Obtain Legal Custody: After talking with you, and hearing that your daughter is highly vindictive — i.e. if she suspects you’re even considering taking her to court, she’ll whisk the child out of your house and never let you see him again.

At this time, because you have the child with you, I’m leaning towards the first choice. We should wait, of course, till you’ve had your first meeting with Attorney Reiber to make a final decision. Till then, perhaps Dear Sugar can weigh in and help with her much-needed insight. . . .

To see more advice from E. Jean visit Elle Magazine and

Join The Conversation
queenegg queenegg 9 years
This is happening with two children in my family. My brother married this woman and they had a child. Well, she already had a child whom he basically raised from birth, but never adopted. We've gone to the courts and they wont give the biological child to us because, in their eyes, the mother is the best choice. The boys', both in elementary school, grades have suffered dramatically, but the courts wont even consider this. She's already had another baby who is not my brother's. So now she's 30 and has three kids by three different men and loves none of them. We want two of them because we love them and want to give them a good life. The system is just messed up and something needs to be done. Just because the "mother" gave birth to these children does not mean that she is a mother. I wish you the best of luck in your situation as I know how painful it is.
RockAndRepublic RockAndRepublic 9 years
Go for full custody. I dare the woman to try and show that she's being a responsible parent.
emmebeth emmebeth 9 years
Best of luck! Amazing advice as always E. Jean!
MrsJigglesworth MrsJigglesworth 9 years
You sound like a wonderful person. I hope everything works out for you and your family. Fallen- valid point. ;)
klreynol klreynol 9 years
OP, my best friend's sister-in-law used to dump her two kids on her parents for weeks at a time. She'd live with one boyfriend, then another, then another - it wasn't a stable environment for kids at all, and she'd only have the kids live with her and her new boyfriend to show them off; after about a week, it was back to their grandparents' house. Finally, her parents told her they were keeping the kids, since she obviously had no interest in caring for them. She was going to take them to court, but based on the "grandparents" law in Michigan (if the grandparents are responsible for so much of the child's upbringing, paying for food, clothes, etc) they would be granted custody of the children - to save the court expenses and everything, she just gave up and let them have the kids. I'm not sure where you are, but maybe your state has a law like that, too. I found this link - maybe it will help some. Good luck!!
JaimeLeah526 JaimeLeah526 9 years
This is such a tough situation. I would suggest talking to the lawyer and see what he has to say. There really isn't a great way to go about this because you don't want her to take off with the kid and never let you see him again. I guess your best bet is to keep doing what you're doing. When your daughter comes over to take her child for a sleepover try and talk her out of it without going into it too deep, distract her or suggest that she stay there with him. Make sure he's comfortable when he's there and that he knows how much you love him and teach him right from wrong without berating his mother. Good luck with everything.
runningesq runningesq 9 years
I would definitely contact an attorney. Best of luck and that little boy is lucky to have you .
tiffsniff tiffsniff 9 years
I agree with Chloe08. Contact your state's DCS - they should be able to make an emergency removal if you can show that the child is in immediate danger. Since you have de facto custody most of the time, odds are that the child can stay with you and the mother would face legal consequences if she tried to take him away. Best of luck!
EJean EJean 9 years
Juicylove, Hunny, I am the wry geezer.
juicylove juicylove 9 years
is E. Jean seriously 65?
cubadog cubadog 9 years
I hope you get custody of your grandchild sounds like Mommy has a lot of growing up to do.
smp7328 smp7328 9 years
E. Jean, you are so wonderful to help out the OP! And to the OP - Thank you for being such a wonderful grandparent to that little boy!!! He is very lucky that he has you! Best of luck to you!!!
bchicgrl bchicgrl 9 years
I completely agree with Chloe, if it's needed I would def suggest seeking help from the child protective services for your area, they will do what's best for the child and if she's as bad as you say then I don't see why you wouldn't get custody and most likely a protection order from her. I hope the attorney E Jean contacted can provide all of the help you will need. Best of luck to your family.
Chloe08 Chloe08 9 years
I work in the Juvenile Division of the county I live in, and sadly I see cases like this every day. My advice was going to be, speak with an attorney. I'm not sure what state you are in, but here the family court can (and frequently does) take temporary custody of children and place them with other family members, usually grandparents, if the mother has a drug problem or repeatedly "abandons" the child. In this case, you have both, so you should have no problem getting at least a temporary court order giving you custody of your grandson. And as a side note, I just want to say that I commend you for stepping in and taking such great care of your grandson. What a horrible, sad, situation. He is very lucky to have you. Best of luck to you, please let us know how it turns out!
ehadams ehadams 9 years
My advice was going to be to look for another lawyer who will help you, possibly even pro bono. But looks like E Jean has helped you with that. Good luck. I have a friend whose sister is in a similar situation in Arkansas. Her sister is also a drug user and leaves her son with her parents, then gets crazy and takes him back, etc. They did manage to get custody over the child and the daughter is in rehab now. So there is hope!
c-a-t-h c-a-t-h 9 years
I hope the courts do the right thing for OP. And E, just wow.
bransugar79 bransugar79 9 years
This is such a horrible predicament. I applaud the OP for trying to make the best of the situation. I think the daughter should get help but ultimatley she's an adult and has to make that choice for herself. I hope something can be done legally to make this child your ward so that he has a chance to grow up healthy, and maybe it will inspire his mother to deal with her issues too. Best wishes to all involved
Fallen85 Fallen85 9 years
"E. Jean's job is to provide sarcastic responses to silly questions. She wouldn't have her fan base if she didn't... I've never once read an E. Jean response that hasn't been filled with sarcasm. If I want legitimate advice about a real problem I'd hire a therapist.You can't tell me you expect the same level of advice from an online column." - lildorothyparker ( Right... guess this column just blew your mind, eh lildorothyparker?
ElizabethRae ElizabethRae 9 years
What a blessing that you and your husband are there to show that child the love he needs and deserves. You are in my prayers. Props to E Jean and Mr. Reiber for helping out.
bluestar bluestar 9 years
Awww..that is so sad. Your grandchild is so lucky to have you!
pjamgrl pjamgrl 9 years
Wishing you all the best! I hope everything works out!
CYL CYL 9 years
Wow you and your husband are amazing grandparents. best of luck to you.
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