In Minnesota, it has been impossible for parents who have had their right to care for their children previously terminated to regain custody. New legislation will change that, however, making Minnesota the 12th state to allow reunification between a parent who has lost custody and his or her child in foster care.
The Family Reunification Act
The legislation passed by an overwhelming majority in both the House and Senate and Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bill into law in May. The Family Reunification Act of 2013 will take effect on Aug. 1 of this year.
The new law does contain several eligibility requirements. For one, only a county attorney can file the petition and only when both the attorney and social services agree it is in the child's best interest. Other conditions that need to be met by clear and convincing evidence are:
• The parent has corrected whatever condition(s) led to the termination of parental rights.
• The parent can capably provide care and maintain the welfare of the child.
• The child has been in foster care for at least three years.
• The child is 15 or older at the time the petition is filed.
• The child has not been adopted or is not in the middle of adoption proceedings.
• The parent was not convicted of sexual abuse or implicated in the death of a minor.
Not many families will be affected by the bill. Approximately 400 abused or neglected children are placed in foster care every year in Minnesota. Of those, only around 50 children would be eligible to be released from foster care under these conditions.
Still, for children who are 15 and in foster care, it could be of great benefit. Studies have shown that children who grow out of foster care are more likely to be homeless, suffer from addiction and have other problems when they become legal adults. Reuniting with a parent who has reformed his or her behavior could potentially reduce the chances of the child experiencing such difficulty right out of foster care.
Supporters of the bill also pointed to lower rates of adoption for teenage African-American and American Indian children and the benefit it could provide to these minority groups to have a parent remain in the child's life.
A Family Law Attorney Can Help
Family reunification can benefit both parent and child. Parents who have previously lost custody but now have the ability to care for their child should contact an experienced family law attorney to discuss their legal options.