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Child custody battle: Foster parents against biological relative

Ohio foster and adoptive parents know dealing with the state's Office for Children and Families can be complicated at times. Child custody matters involving this state agency can become particularly involved to the point of frustration. Several adults in another state are awaiting a child custody decision that is about to be made in family court.

The dispute revolves around a 4-year-old girl whose mother is in prison. The mother gave birth just before she was sentenced and the girl was placed in a foster home, where she has been ever since. Her foster parents want to adopt her, but the girl's aunt, whom she has never met, has come forward and claims she was never notified by child services she had a niece. She says the girl's mother told her only last summer she had given birth to a child in 2015. The mother has no legal rights to the child anymore but never named her sister as a potential guardian, though the sister says the mother is mentally challenged.

The little girl's mother had another daughter several years before and a half-sister fostered and then adopted her. Although the half-sister denies it now, social services says she was not interested in taking in the second daughter and the baby was placed with the foster family now wanting to adopt her.  While the county says it never knew of the sister who currently wants to adopt the 4-year-old, she was on record as helping the half-sister in her adoption process of the older niece.

Federal law mandates, barring safety problems, that the state should place a child with family members before unrelated custodians. However, the attorney representing the Department of Social Services argues the little girl's foster parents are the only family she has ever known and is recommending the foster parents be given full custody. On the other hand, the girl's aunt is worried she will never get the chance to know her niece. The decision, of course, will be made by the court and not social services.

In many cases, there are good arguments for both sides of such a case. What is best for the child should always be the focus of everyone involved. Because there can be many facets to a child custody case in Ohio, it is prudent to hire an attorney with a thorough knowledge of the applicable state and federal laws involved.

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