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Could 'free-range' parents lose custody of their children?

When the subject of child custody comes up in conversation, some assume that divorce or separation is a factor. While this can and often is the case, it's worth pointing out that the topic of child custody can come about when talking about other family law issues as well. This has become more apparent this month for Marylanders and people across the country because of a case out of Silver Spring that is grabbing national attention.

Some of our Columbia readers may have heard about the case of the Meitivs who are being accused of "unsubstantiated neglect" because they have allowed their two children, on more than one occasion, to walk alone in the neighborhood without parental supervision. The case is now pitting child protective services against the children's parents and raising a lot of questions about the conflict between parenting styles and the reach of the law.

One such question is whether or not the Meitivs could lose custody of their children because of what some call "free-range" parenting, which is a style of parenting the Meitivs say teaches their children "self-reliance and responsibility." This month's intervention from the Maryland Child Protective Services marked the second time in four months that the government has been alerted to a possible safety issue concerning the children, prompting the agency to hold the children for several hours away from their parents.

Although the Meitivs call the intervention from law enforcement to be "beyond ridiculous," CPS is taking each allegation of neglect to be very serious and even explained to the Meitivs that they would lose custody of their children if they did not draft a safety plan with CPS. The parents have agreed to this proposal though they believe that they are being "[bullied] into a point of view about child rearing that [they] strongly disagree with."

What certainly seems to be at issue here is what constitutes as neglect in the eyes of the law. Even though the Meitivs and others may not see free-range parenting as neglect, Maryland law seems to see things very differently, which creates complex legal situations such as this one thus requiring the help of a skilled lawyer for sure.

Sources: The Seattle PI, "Police again pick up children of 'free-range' parents," Amanda Lee Myers, April 13, 2015

Patch.com, "Parents Who Let Kids Walk Home Alone Found Responsible for Neglect," Deb Belt, March 3, 2015

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