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Drug test adds twist to custody battle
Drug test adds twist to custody battle
Thursday, June 03, 2004
By John Agar
The Grand Rapids Press
Four more days.
That's how much longer 6-year-old Jacob Kucharski must wait to find out who his
parents will be, after a courtroom bombshell Wednesday delayed a decision on
whether he will return to his birth mother.
Family Court Judge Patricia Gardner said she will decide Monday whether to
again terminate Melissa Kucharski's parental rights, after the Wayland woman
recently tested positive for marijuana use.
The latest twist comes a year after the state's highest court criticized the
judge's early handling of the case, in which Kucharski lost custody of her son
partly because of drug use.
The ruling gave Kucharski the chance to regain custody, and social workers and
court officials have since suggested the boy could be returned to her.
But new allegations of marijuana use, revealed during Wednesday's hearing to
reunite the pair, will keep the boy in legal limbo through the weekend -- a
familiar yet potentially damaging place for a child who has spent most of his
life in the heart of what the judge has called "an impossible case."
"He needs an answer," psychotherapist Thalia Ference said Wednesday. "He
urgently needs resolution."
The boy's now 22-year-old mother lost custody in 2001. He stayed with six
foster families before Deb and John Wordhouse of Grand Rapids took him in 2000,
and eventually adopted him. But the state Supreme Court ruling voided the
adoption, and paved the way for Kucharski to regain custody.
Witnesses said the process has increasingly troubled Jacob. His attorney and
others say he wants to remain with the Wordhouses, where he has continued to as
the case is resolved.
He has had supervised and unsupervised visits with his mother, in preparation
for the change, but the stress and anxiety are taking a toll.
Jennifer Webb, a child-welfare specialist for Catholic Social Services, said
Jacob is "experiencing increased anxiety."
She said her agency recommended Kucharski lose her parental rights. She and
others raised questions about her honesty because she denied using drugs,
despite two positive tests in March.
Attorney Mark Van Slooten, appointed to represent the boy, also asked for
termination. "Ms. Ference clearly indicated that Jacob needs permanency, and he
needs it immediately."
If Kucharski's parental rights are terminated, she could begin the appeals
process again, first at the state Court of Appeals and ultimately the state
Supreme Court, said Assistant Kent County Prosecutor Timothy McMorrow, the
chief appellate attorney.
Deb Wordhouse was present at Wednesday's hearing but did not respond to request
for comment afterward.
Charles Clapp, representing Kucharski, said his client could have made it
easier on herself by saying she relapsed and smoked marijuana. But he said she
has repeatedly insisted she did not take the drug, and passed several
"I must've told her a million times. Ms. Kucharski adamantly denied using
marijuana, adamantly. ... I can't prove a negative. I can't prove she didn't."
Three months ago, he left the courtroom cautiously optimistic as witnesses told
about efforts Kucharski made to reunite with her son. At that hearing, Gardner,
the judge, was encouraged by Kucharski's progress, and said she "has done a
very good job."
But at Wednesday's hearing, she heard allegations against Kucharski, and
concerns about her fiance, Derrick Rademaker, who was upset with social workers
after Kucharski failed the hair-follicle drug test. He also failed to inform
them that he had quit his job.
Clapp said he would explore whether the drug test showed false results.
His client has done everything that authorities asked of her since the Supreme
Court ruling last year, he said.
A good friend will come and bail you out of jail . . . but, a true friend will
be sitting next to you saying, "Damn . . . that was fun!"
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