Earlier this year we introduced you to Melissa, a woman who has been fighting to regain custody of her child for years. We are thrilled to report an important victory for Melissa at long last—a victory that will also help many other parents in Washington.
Melissa agreed in 2008 for her relatives to have custody of her two-year-old child at a time when she was struggling with substance addiction. She thought the custody agreement would be temporary as she worked to overcome her addiction. And Melissa did her part. She immediately entered a drug treatment program and has been sober ever since.
But for years afterward, Melissa could not even get the trial court in Asotin County to hear her petitions to regain custody of her child. Because of the way Washington’s statutes are worded, she was told that her successful effort to turn her life around was not “adequate cause” to consider changing custody. But Melissa didn’t give up. After hitting roadblock after roadblock in the trial court, she filed an appeal.
Legal Voice, along with our allies at Northwest Justice Project, submitted an amicus brief supporting her appeal, arguing that parents like Melissa must be able to get the help they need without the fear of never regaining custody of their children.
And last week, the Court of Appeals agreed! The Court noted that her case presented “a potential for a gross miscarriage of justice.” The Court held that the trial court must hear Melissa’s petition to regain custody, and at that hearing, Melissa’s fitness as a parent must be presumed and she need not show “adequate cause” to modify the custody agreement.
We hope and expect that the Court’s decision will help many other parents regain custody of their children. The Court also specifically encouraged us to go to the Legislature to address the disparity in Washington statutes that puts parents like Melissa in this position—we will work with our allies to do just that.
We are thrilled for Melissa, and hope for her long-awaited reunion with her child. And we applaud her courage and persistence to win justice not only for herself, but for many other parents in Washington State.