September 26, 2018
Faith was one of many young women in southern West Virginia to struggle with drug abuse and its affect on her family. She was in her early 30s and had hit rock bottom as an addict with no job, home, or transportation. She also had a 5-year-old daughter, Hailey, with her ex-boyfriend Terrence, who recovered from drug abuse but still had problems with alcoholism. After they decided to split up, the court viewed Terrence as the more fit parent and awarded him full custody of Hailey; Faith wasn’t even awarded visitation rights.
In order to earn visitation rights, Faith had to prove she was drug-free, could get and maintain housing, and could hold down a job to pay child support for six months. During that time, she quit using drugs cold turkey and was able to pass every drug test the court administered. She also got a full-time job at a restaurant and a part-time job at the local city mission. After the six months had passed, Faith came to Legal Aid of West Virginia, ready to work out some visitation to see her daughter.
Her attorney filed for visitation immediately, which is where they came to learn that Terrence had taken Hailey and bolted. Terrence’s history of violence, alcoholism, and abuse struck Faith with fear, and Legal Aid reached out to Child Protective Services (CPS) for help right away. CPS was able to track Terrence to Fayette County, but when authorities arrived, he had moved again. Legal Aid continued to work with CPS to find addresses for Terrence, and followed him across southern West Virginia.
Every time Faith’s attorney was able to track down Terrence, he moved again rapidly. He began showing schools the court order that granted him full custody, so each time an attorney called to inquire about Hailey, they would refuse to answer questions. Faith and her attorney persevered but worried about Hailey’s well-being constantly. On top of fears for her safety because of Terrence’s abusive past, Terrence would also send messages to Faith telling her he was teaching Hailey “to forget about her mother.”
Terrence moved so many times that he could no longer afford to support himself—or Hailey—and sunk deeper into alcoholism. Finally, he resorted to moving into the city mission because he had run out of options. Faith went into her part-time job at the mission one day and was shocked and thrilled to see her own child was there. Terrence had no idea about Faith’s part-time job and had unknowingly delivered Hailey right into Faith’s arms. Faith contacted her attorney, who got a hearing scheduled immediately.
Throughout the arduous moving process, Hailey failed kindergarten once and barely passed on her second attempt. Terrence enrolled her in a total of seven schools across four counties. The judge awarded Faith full custody of her daughter. Several months later, Faith is still working both jobs, maintaining a drug-free life, and helping Hailey catch up in school.