I've been a member of this forum since November 2007, but I took a very long hiatus due to some family issues. I'm posting this thread here today because I remember that this forum was a *huge* help, both to me and to other mothers, especially those who are in crisis. I'm posting it in the single parent forum because it's a custody issue. I do have a girlfriend, who also has a son, but we're separated from our children's biological fathers.
Edit: I don't want sole custody of my son. I should have stated this upfront, but neglected to do so. I want to work out a joint custody agreement with his dad, or, at the very least, court-ordered visitation. If I don't get much more than that, that's fair, but this current arrangement isn't working at all.
Here's my situation. I'm trying to gain custody of my four year old son JD, who lives with his father in New York City. He moved there in March 2010; we were both living in Tennessee, and when he kicked me out in May 2009, I moved to Pittsburgh to live with my aunt. Since then, I've been fighting tooth and nail to secure housing, a means of income, and a productive, stable home environment in order to gain custody of JD. It has been extremely difficult, because I don't have any financial or emotional support from my family (mostly due to my lifestyle and sexual orientation), but I'm currently living in a transitional age program and majoring in Biotechnology at CCAC. Unfortunately, I'm only able to see my son about once a year; my schedule and finances don't allow for much more than that, and his father isn't willing to take him to Pittsburgh to visit me. In January 2011, when I moved out of my aunt's house into an emergency shelter for adults with mental illness, my ex won sole custody by default; I had faxed paperwork to the Family Court in order to appear by phone, but after much prodding and failed attempts at communication, they said that they "never got it." However, I was able to get in contact with an attorney through Project HELP, and she is involved in the case. Pursuing it will be difficult, though, because I don't have the money or resources to stay in NYC for more than one or two days at a time. I'm currently unemployed, though I receive financial support through Welfare and Job Corps.
I have entertained the idea of moving to New York City many times, thinking that there would be more resources there than in Pittsburgh. When doing some online research one day, I learned about the Ali Forney Center, a shelter for LGBT youth and young adults age 18-24. (I sent the contents of this post to someone who works there in an email, but she hasn't responded yet.) Shortly after viewing the website, I was introduced to Tiffany LIFE Cocco, through the ABC article and Youtube video about her, whose situation is similar to mine. When I read about her struggles with obtaining public housing and Section-8 for her and her wife, I thought about the frustration that I've experienced with helping my girlfriend and her three year old son, JC, find housing, either with me or separately. She is also living apart from her son's father, and has been bouncing around to different friends' houses for about two years. She ended up living with a guy who was very controlling whose behavior was escalating into physical abuse, both toward her and her son; as a result, I helped her move into a domestic violence shelter and helped to support her as well as I could on a meagre income. She is still struggling with the Welfare system, which has been repeatedly cutting off her benefits. She has been without food stamps, cash assistance, and medical insurance for five months. She has significant health concerns, both mental and physical, that require immediate attention and treatment; one of these may be fibromyalgia. She is currently living with another mother and her partner, who have three autistic children, and JC himself is a handful: he may have ADHD. This type of environment is very stressful, and she simply doesn't have the energy or resources to improve her situation.
As you are most likely aware, many mothers who don't have their children in their care do not qualify for housing in family shelters, and often, housing programs that are maintained through mental health and substance abuse organizations, like the one who hosts my supportive housing program, do not accept single mothers or families. I would love for my son and I to share an apartment with her and her son, but I don't know how to make that happen. Many mothers who don't have their children in their immediate care/custody do not qualify for housing in family shelters, and often, housing programs that are maintained through mental health and substance abuse organizations, like the one who hosts my supportive housing program, do not accept single mothers or families. Also, I fear the consequences that could result due to discrimination from the courts and from subsidized housing organizations, because of our untraditional relationship. With my ex, JD has a nuclear family - a mom, a dad, and a younger half-brother. With me, he is removed from that, and I'm not sure that the court will deem my girlfriend and her son to be an adequate surrogate family. If not, I may not get much more than visitation, which would have to be court-ordered because JD's dad won't take the initiative.
I'm asking for support and guidance regarding how to deal with this difficult and painful situation. My main two concerns are finding adequate, short-term accommodations in NYC and advice on negotiating a custody arrangement in family court. If you could give me the websites of some hostels and other accommodations in NYC for students or low-income tourists, that would be great. I've considered visiting a drop-in center or shelter, but I don't want to take up a bed that someone in immediate need could use if I can find an affordable room for the night. Also, I would very much appreciate it if you could recommend any websites, brochures, or books about how to deal with family court as an LGBT parent. The list of books and websites that I've found while browsing is overwhelming, and those who I've spoken to in Pittsburgh are reluctant to give me advice because they're unfamiliar with the laws in New York. Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post.
Edited by acannon - 5/11/12 at 8:24pm