A proposed class action lawsuit recently removed to North Carolina federal court claims Cherokee County' Department of Social Services (CCDSS) has unlawfully separated children from their parents’ custody.
A proposed class action lawsuit recently removed to North Carolina federal court claims Cherokee County' Department of Social Services (CCDSS) has separated children from their parents’ custody by coercing parents into signing unlawful agreements outside of court supervision. Also filed against Cherokee County itself and two individual CCDSS employees, the lawsuit argues that the defendants have failed in their duty to protect the welfare of minor children and have negatively impacted parent-child relationships by enforcing unlawful Custody and Visitation Agreements (CVA) and Powers of Attorney (POA).
The case says the plaintiff was granted custody of his minor daughter on April 1, 2016 but was contacted by CCDSS in November of the same year to address concerns regarding his ability to care for the child. The man met with representatives of CCDSS on November 21, 2016, the suit explains, and was allegedly threatened into signing a CVA, through which he was to relinquish the custody of his daughter to her paternal grandfather. The lawsuit alleges that CCDSS took advantage of the man’s known learning disabilities and lack of legal representation in the meeting, misrepresenting the legality of the document and the consequences of his decision to sign it. According to the complaint, the plaintiff was led to believe that he would “be subject to adverse legal proceedings and other consequences” if he did not sign the CVA document. "Other consequences," the case continues, include that his child would be adopted, placed in foster care, or moved to another location where he would “have little or no contact with her.”
According to the complaint, the plaintiff eventually took the matter to court and, in December 2017, was restored custody of his daughter after the court determined the CVA was “not a valid legal document, not enforceable or binding, [and was] null and void.” The judge overseeing the case then reported CCDSS and the individual attorney defendant to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, which reportedly issued a statement warning county social services directors that “facilitating such private custody agreements without the oversight of the Court falls outside of both law and policy.”
The lawsuit argues that the defendants have used CVAs, POAs, or “substantively similar agreements” to unlawfully pressure parents into surrendering custody of their children without judicial oversight “for upwards of two decades,” and have damaged families in the process.