Fox Family Lawyers
Cynthia Moseley Fox
Attorney at Law
7751 Carondelet Avenue,
Suite 700
Clayton, Missouri 63105
(St. Louis)
314.727.4880

Missouri Supreme Court Reunites Mother with Child Taken Away Years Earlier

As a mother as much as a family lawyer, I couldn’t help taking a special interest in the case of Angela Williams of Park Hills, Mo. And along with advocates for the mentally ill, I couldn’t help cheering its outcome. 

 

Motherhood, challenging even in the best of circumstances, was bound to be especially so for Williams. She was single. She suffered from manic depression and mild cerebral palsy. Her son was born with a cleft palate and a small jaw, which required special techniques for feeding him.

 

Did Williams need at least temporary help to care for her baby? Obviously. Even she admitted that. But did she deserve to have him taken away from her forever? After reading court documents on and newspaper reports of this noteworthy case, I absolutely don’t think so.

 

And, to its great credit, the Missouri Supreme Court didn’t think so either.  

 

Until that court’s recent decision, awarding her custody of the boy, Williams couldn’t seem to win. On the assumption that she was incapable of caring for her infant son, the state of Missouri swooped in and took him from her when he was only five days old.  When he was two and a half, the state succeeded in convincing a lower court to terminate her parental rights. 

 

Under Missouri law, a court isn’t supposed to do that without getting an up-to-date report on a family’s situation. But in this situation this court never ordered such a report and relied instead on information that was by then almost as old the boy himself.

 

So the court gave no consideration to new information that should have weighed in Williams’ favor: That she was getting the psychiatric help she needed. That her son no longer needed so much special feeding help. That, except when she was physically unable, she showed up for all scheduled visits with him. That she brought him gifts–hardly the behavior of a mother that the court determined to be unfit. 

 

The court further contended that she had failed to bond with her son. How’s that for a catch? I ask you: How could she–or any other woman, for that matter-- have bonded with a child she never really got a chance to mother? 

 

The Supreme Court essentially asked that same question in giving Williams her son back. The court also faulted the lower court for acting on old information, including about her mental illness.

 

With so much of that going around these days, it’s fortunate that, as far as the law is concerned, it doesn’t automatically disqualify anybody from parenthood. But mental illness can come up and be considered as one factor in child-custody cases. I know that from having gone to bat for several parents threatened in custody fights with having their mental diagnoses used against them.

 

My advice to them and to any such parent at risk of losing a child: In order to protect yourself and keep custody of your children, seek treatment and strictly follow your doctor’s orders, including any prescribed drug regimen.   

 

Obviously, someone got to Angela Williams with the same message. She did the right thing not only in getting help for her disease but also, in my opinion, by appealing the lower court’s dismissive and totally unfair treatment of her and her son.

 

So happy reunion and all my best to them! He’ll be four years old in June. They have a lot of catching up to do.