Jessica wanted to be able to see her son. Since age 2, the child had lived with her father’s stepmother. The state of Florida had declared Jessica an unfit mother and taken away custody.
As a child, Jessica had grown up in foster care. Aging out of the system when she was 18, she had made some bad choices as a young adult, including substance abuse. But five years after the court-ordered removal of her son, Jessica had turned her life around. Rehab was behind her and she was successfully maintaining sobriety. She was married to a solid guy, with a ready-made family of young stepchildren. She and her husband worked in a thriving business they created.
“We’ve been married for two years,” said Jessica about her marriage. “It’s a blessing – a little bit of support goes a long way.”
Not too long ago, Jessica realized the time had come to be allowed expanded visitation rights with her son. She was already seeing her child, now 7, once a week, and wanted the court’s permission to bring him home for overnight visits. It was a small ask compared to seeking full custody, but at the time, Jessica didn’t dream that one day her little boy would be living with her again, that they would see each other every day.
“Having grown up in foster care, I knew what it was like not to have a mom and dad,” she said. “I didn’t want that for my son.”
Jessica’s parental rights had never been terminated but the state had closed her original case plan. She needed an attorney, she figured, and called lawyer offices. That’s when she learned that lawyers who take dependency cases are few and far between. Finally, the one who said, yes, he could help, wanted a fee she could not afford.
Jessica had wanted to represent herself but that plan didn’t work. Her day in court ended with the judge denying her without prejudice. The motion she had filed on her own wasn’t up to par, the language wasn’t right. She needed a lawyer.
Searching on the internet, Jessica found Jeanne Coleman, a Tampa family law attorney who not only handles divorce cases and mediation but also represents parents and caregivers in dependency cases.
“I looked at Jeanne’s website and liked the fact she was a woman, that was a big plus for me,” said Jessica. “When we met, Jeanne told me you don’t have to settle and only take what people are offering you. She said we could get weekend visits at a minimum but that I could want better than that.”
Jessica had already done all the footwork that showed she could be a capable parent. She had completed rehab. She had taken parenting classes. She had a stable home and a stable income. The fact that her parental rights weren’t terminated was important, although her son was under permanent guardianship. She could get the case reopened, with the right help.
“A lot of mothers who are in my situation don’t have the capability to retain a lawyer. They think their parental rights are terminated when really their cases are closed and they could have the cases reopened,” said Jessica.
As Jessica describes it, Jeanne put all the pieces together in a way that the court couldn’t say no to her request for reunification. Jessica got more than weekend visits. She was allowed to be a full-time parent to her son.
“Everything’s working out great. He’s loved and cared for,” said Jessica about her son being home again. “I’m glad I was finally heard in court. It’s very hard to be heard in court without a lawyer. You need someone who can speak in the language that a judge will take seriously and judges definitely take Jeanne seriously.”
The Jeanne Coleman law firm is located at 404 S. Howard Ave. in south Tampa. Call (813) 253-2820.