You’ve lost custody of your kids. Now get them back.

Over the years, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has ruled on two important cases relating to child custody. In addition, the U.S. Congress has passed federal legislation. In 1972, the court ruled (Stanley v. Illinois) that unmarried fathers have fundamental parenting rights; in 1983 (Lehr v. Robertson), SCOTUS ruled that biological fathers must demonstrate a presence in their child’s life in order to hold onto custodial rights; and in 1997, Congress passed the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) giving states the right to terminate parental rights if a child remains in foster care for 15 out of 22 months.

It’s every divorced or single parent’s nightmare: losing custody of your kids. Whether it happens because the other parent whips up a contrived story, you face a chemical dependency problem, incarceration or social services declares the children are not in a safe environment due to domestic violence, it doesn’t matter — losing custody means losing your opportunity to be an important part of your children’s lives.

The truth is, many parents who lose custody should admit there are personal problems that need to be addressed. When those issues are in the past, the next step is often taking up the fight to get back custody.

Deal with the foundation of the problem

Unless you have met the conditions set forth by the court when your custody rights were removed, you should not expect the court to rule favorably on reinstatement. Likewise, if you haven’t overcome the chemical dependency or domestic violence issues that led to losing custody or parenting rights, it will be difficult to demonstrate to social services that your children won’t be placed into the same home environment they were removed from. Perhaps one drug treatment center website says it best, “Recovering addicts need to earn child custody after rehab.”

A common-sense first step should be to get a professional evaluation on record. Hire a professional child custody evaluator to assess your circumstances and provide a report in support of your request; with supporting evidence that the original reasons you lost custody have been eliminated. In short, you will need to offer proof that your children will not be placed back in the same conditions that resulted in removal from custody in the first place.

Get legal help

Earning back custody is an uphill battle. Social service and child welfare agencies have built several hurdles into the process. The courts will always look at the best interest of the child. Talking to an attorney with special skills and experience in the area of child custody law should be your first step. Knowing what the path ahead looks like is often the best way to give you confidence to take the first step.