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New York parenthood lost and found

An against-all-odds father's story recently received the attention of an annual charity campaign conducted by The New York Times. The long child custody wait of a 49-year-old father of five was highlighted among a series of stories designed to encourage financial support for the newspaper's Neediest Cases Fund.

A judge would not likely permit a parent with such a questionable criminal and lifestyle history to receive custody. This man proved that he had paid his dues to society, disconnected from a severe drug habit and was a responsible parent.

The story began in 1996, when the man was divorced. The mother of his three children left town and took the children with her. The ex-husband - diagnosed with H.I.V. from sharing needles - was plagued by drug abuse from the time he was a teenager.

After the news that he would become a father for the fourth time in 2006, the man entered a drug rehabilitation program. A fifth child was born in 2008.

Four years ago, the man, who thought he lost all contact with his earlier children, found two of them. A son and daughter from his previous marriage had been in an out-of-state foster care program for two years. Their mother had lost custody of them because she could not shake drug addiction.

The ex-husband moved immediately to try to win custody. The father received physical custody of the children after completing a series of court-ordered requirements including anger and parenting classes. Child welfare agents monitored the Brooklyn man's parenting behavior for a year before a court granted guardianship.

Parents who regain control of their lives after a criminal conviction or drug use might believe they have no chance to win a custody case. As the story shows, parents who wish to overcome the past must prove in court they are willing and able to return to the role of an effective parent in the present.

Source: nytimes.com, "A Fresh Start at Family, After Addiction, Prison and Disease," John Otis, Nov. 26, 2012

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