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Can immigration status have bearing on child custody battles?

Residents of Texas often times think about immigration status affecting employment more than any other aspect of a person's life, but in reality it affects much more and sometimes with significant consequences as well. As readers of our blog will see from an example case in Minnesota, immigration status can have a significant impact on child custody battles as well.

In 2009, a then 17-year-old woman gave birth to a baby girl. She was not a legal resident at the time of the girl's birth but her then boyfriend was. Instead of getting married, they decided to live with the boyfriend's mother, who was a U.S. citizen, and father, who was a legal resident.

But in 2011, the baby's mother moved out following a fight with the boyfriend's mother. It was at this time that the baby's grandparents filed for emergency sole custody of the child. They argued that they were best suited to care for the baby considering the mother had no legal presence in the United States.

At the time of the request, a Minnesota court awarded custody to the grandparents though the reasoning behind it is not clear. As some attorneys point out, the baby's father, who was 15 at the time of the child's birth, did not file for custody. Some argue that the initial custody ruling may have been different if this evidence had been considered.

The mother, who is now 20 years old, appealed the court's decision on the grounds that her immigration status had no bearing on whether or not she was fit to be a parent. The appeals court agreed and in a 3-0 decision, the mother was finally awarded custody of her 4-year-old daughter.

While outcomes like this may not happen every time, the specifics of the case matter greatly when decisions of child custody are made. In the end, if circumstances don't add up in a case, an appeal may be necessary to get a more just outcome.

Source: The Start Tribune, "Immigration status not a factor in custody battle, Minnesota court says," Abby Simons, April 8, 2013

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