Almost ten years ago my sister married a terribly abusive man, who beat her and verbally abused her to the point that she still bears major emotional scars. They had a baby together, and divorced about three years ago. She was given full custody of my nephew, and he was allowed visitation. He complained when my sister expected him to take their son every now and then, and he didn't pay a dime of child support. When ORS became involved, he got an under-the-table job so his income could not be traced. Every time visitation was set up, he would subject my sister to even more verbal abuse, and because she had grown so accustomed to it, she allowed it to continue happenening. This happened with their son in the same room a lot of the time.
He's been a heavy pot smoker for as long as we knew him, had such a violent temper that he held all of us hostage in our own home and threatened to bludgeon my mother to death with a hammer for daring to try and stop a fight between him and my sister. He stole from us, and called me horrible names among other things. This guy is a real piece of work.
My sister eventually lost her ability to cope with life, and began doing heroin and sleeping around. Her son was left unattended for hours at a time, and at one point I had to turn my own sister into DCFS. She went into rehab last year, while her nephew stayed with me. During her hospital stay, my nephew's father reemerged, claiming to be a 'changed guy' and wanted 'to be a man and take responsibility' for his son. I didn't know what to do, but I didn't think I had any right to keep his child away from him so I reluctantly turned him over.
My sister left the hospital and entered a 12-step program and seemed to be doing a little better, but she seemed to lost interest in her son. But then I asked her why she and her baby weren't together very often, and she said her ex would start such violent arguments and she just didn't have the emotional energy to deal with it at the moment. I tried to be nice to her ex, and for a while it worked and he allowed me to visit my nephew every now and then. But he became more and more evasive, purposely not answering his phone when I was supposed to pick up my nephew at a scheduled time or yelling at me if I demanded to know why he was avoiding me. He actually said "I have the power, and you'll do things my way" when I asked "Why do you keep stiffing me?"
He then accused Jessica of abandoning James (their son) because he tried to make it look like she wasn't making an effort to see her son. But she told me that he was doing the same thing to her as he was doing to me.
I also learned that he's still very much into pot,both from an upstairs neighbor who also happens to be my other sister's friend, and from my sister who catches him doing it.
Neither my Mom, nor I have seen James in about five and a half months. His father is now trying to say we're plotting to kidnap his son and won't let us anywhere near him.
Meanwhile, my sister was diagnosed with HIV four months ago and just two weeks ago was diagnosed as having multiple brain tumors. She's been hallucinating and losing weight, fast. I can almost see her deteriorating right before my eyes. James is losing his mother, is living with a paranoid, violent-tempered, drug-addicted father and probably thinks his aunt, Grandma, and cousins have all abandoned him. This can't be good for the little guy.
My questions are: I feel that it would be in James' best interest if I were to pursue legal guardianship of my nephew. He's been through so much trauma, and his father doesn't even believe in counseling so I know he'll have some serious emotional scars if the damage isn't undone soon.
The second question is, I might have to do this without an attorney. If that's the case, how to I gather evidence? What would the judge be looking for which would prove what I've been saying? Do you think I have a ghost of a chance?
If not guardianship, are there any other options?
This is such a painful situation, and any advice would be of tremendous help.