What Causes a Mother to Lose Custody of Her Children?

By Editorial Team

Updated December 05, 2018

Boy (12-13) hugging mother at home

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Mothers have traditionally been viewed as the best caregiver for their children by the courts. In recent years, this bias has slowly been changing, as mental health experts learn more about the healthy mother-child bond and the unhealthy attachment of a mother who is emotionally damaged because of abuse, neglect and substance abuse. Even mothers on active duty, serving overseas, find themselves at risk of losing custody of their children.

Abuse and Neglect

A mother can lose custody of her children if she does not take steps to protect them after they have been abused by her spouse or partner. For instance, a Child Protective Services office that finds evidence that the mother didn't protect her children while they were being abused by her partner can file for legal custody of those children. This abuse can be physical, sexual or emotional. If the mother does not take active steps to learn why she needs to protect her children more effectively while her children remain in foster care, she can permanently lose parental rights to her children.

Maternal Substance Abuse

Children whose mothers abuse substances, including both alcohol and drugs, are more likely to be removed from the home. In a 2006 study outlined by the National Institutes of Health, substance abuse was one of a constellation of factors that led to the mothers' loss of custody of their children. Mothers in the study were dependent on illicit substances and alcohol, were victimized by domestic violence, and had histories of childhood neglect in their own backgrounds. The outcome of the study proved that unhealthy attachments and substance abuse contributed to the removal of the children from their mothers.

Mother's Military Service Overseas

Single parents and dual military couples -- couples where both the husband and wife are in the military -- must have a Family Care Plan in place in the event they are both deployed into a war zone. The Family Care Plan spells out the arrangements the parents have made for their children's care while they are overseas. These arrangements include who is responsible for providing 24-hour care for the children, and who is responsible for making medical and educational decisions on their behalf. If a divorced military mother's ex-spouse is a civilian, he is not legally bound by the Family Care Plan. He can legally file for custody of the children while his ex-spouse is serving in a war zone overseas.